Two of the greatest Jewish voices of the past half-century appear on stage together for the first time in what promises to be a significant public intellectual event. French philosopher, essayist, playwright, and filmmaker Bernard-Henri Lévy joins heroic former Soviet prisoner of conscience Natan Sharansky to address and debate the most urgent questions of our moment, starting with Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and ongoing U.S. engagement with Iran’s tottering dictatorship as it pursues a nuclear bomb. Lévy and Sharansky will offer their perspectives, then be joined by moderator David Samuels, the Literary Editor at Tablet.
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Doors open at 2:30 p.m.
Bernard-Henri Lévy, a founding member of the “New Philosophers” movement in France, is the author of more than 40 books of philosophy, war reportage, essays, drama, and fiction, the director of a half-dozen films, and editor of the magazine La Regle du Jeu. His books Barbarism With a Human Face and The Testament of God were hailed by Emmanuel Levinas and Ronald Barthes and made Lévy a figure of continuing international significance.
In the early 1990s, Lévy led a movement of intellectuals including Elie Wiesel and Susan Sontag that helped to focus global attention on the slaughter of Bosnians and the siege of Sarajevo during the Balkan Wars by Serbian militias directed by the war criminals Ratko Mladic and Slobodan Milosevic. Since then, Lévy has been a tireless and effective campaigner for Kurdish statehood and a passionate defender of Ukraine while chronicling the world’s “forgotten wars,” from Nigeria, to Sudan, Darfur, Libya, and Kurdistan. His 2006 book America Vertigo retraced de Tocqueville’s journey while making the case for the necessity of American leadership in the West, concepts which Americans now seem increasingly eager to abandon.
Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky was a child chess prodigy born in Donetsk, Ukraine. He graduated from the prestigious Physical Technical Institute of Moscow with a degree in computer science and mathematics and went to work at a secret state laboratory in Moscow. After his application for permission to emigrate to Israel was rejected in 1973, Sharansky became the translator and unofficial spokesman for the physicist Andrei Sakharov, the father of the Soviet atomic bomb, dissident leader, and winner of the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize. Sharansky was also a founding member of the Helsinki Watch Group, the umbrella of Soviet dissident movements.
On March 15, 1977, Sharansky was arrested by the KGB on charges of high treason and accused of being a CIA spy. “To the court I have nothing to say,” Sharansky told the Soviet court prior to the announcement of its verdict, “to my wife and the Jewish people I say, ‘Next Year in Jerusalem.’” He spent most of the next nine years in solitary confinement in a prison camp in Siberia; he chronicled his experiences in his classic book Fear No Evil. In 1986, he was freed at the behest of President Ronald Reagan and emigrated to Israel, where he has served as head of the Jewish Agency and Deputy Prime Minister of the State of Israel. In addition to Fear No Evil, which has been translated into nine languages, he is also the author of The New York TimesBest-Seller The Case for Democracy, Defending Identity, and Never Alone.
David Samuels is the author of The Runner and Only Love Can Break Your Heart, and a longtime contributor to Harper’s Magazine and The New Yorker. As Tablet’s Literary Editor, he has conducted separate long interviews with Lévy and Sharansky, and looks forward to interviewing them both together on stage.