One further point. A few weeks ago I happened to catch part of Bouillon de culture, Bernard Pivot’s weekly discussion programme, screened on French television, and broadcast in the US a short time later. The programme was about Sartre’s slow posthumous rehabilitation in the face of continuing criticism of his political sins. Bernard-Henry Lévy, than whom in quality of mind and political courage there could scarcely be anyone more different from Sartre, was there to flog his approving study of the older philosopher. (I confess that I haven’t read it, and do not soon plan to.) He was not so bad really, said the patronising B-HL; there were things about him, after all, that were consistently admirable and politically correct. B-HL intended this to balance what he considered the well-founded criticism of Sartre (made into a nauseating mantra by Paul Johnson) as having always been wrong on Communism. ‘For example,’ B-HL intoned, ‘Sartre’s record on Israel was perfect: he never deviated and he remained a complete supporter of the Jewish state.’
For reasons that we still cannot know for certain, Sartre did indeed remain constant in his fundamental pro-Zionism. Whether that was because he was afraid of seeming anti-semitic, or because he felt guilt about the Holocaust, or because he allowed himself no deep appreciation of the Palestinians as victims of and fighters against Israel’s injustice, or for some other reason, I shall never know. All I do know is that as a very old man he seemed pretty much the same as he had been when somewhat younger: a bitter disappointment to every (non-Algerian) Arab who admired him. Certainly Bertrand Russell was better than Sartre, and in his last years (though led on and, some would say, totally manipulated by my former Princeton classmate and one-time friend, Ralph Schoenman) actually took positions critical of Israel’s policies towards the Arabs. I guess we need to understand why great old men are liable to succumb either to the wiles of younger ones, or to the grip of an unmodifiable political belief. It’s a dispiriting thought, but it’s what happened to Sartre. With the exception of Algeria, the justice of the Arab cause simply could not make an impression on him, and whether it was entirely because of Israel or because of a basic lack of sympathy – cultural or perhaps religious – it’s impossible for me to say. In this he was quite unlike his friend and idol Jean Genet, who celebrated his strange passion for Palestinians in an extended sojourn with them and by writing the extraordinary ‘Quatre Heures à Sabra et Chatila’ and Le Captif amoureux."
— Edward Said, Dairy