From Mon Dec 16 09:30:14 2002
From: Le Monde diplomatique <>
To: Le Monde diplomatique <>
Subject: Self-censorship in France
Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2002 12:40:38 +0100 (CET)

Far right joins media harassment campaign: Self-censorship in France

By Dominique Vidal, Le Monde diplomatique, December 2002

Can you criticise Israel's policy towards the Palestinians without being accused of antisemitism? Can you even report from Israel with honesty? French journalists are beginning to ask these questions after a sustained and organised campaign of harassment against the media.

Israeli, Palestinian and French specialists met in Nice just over a year ago in what was supposed to have been an academic symposium to discuss rationality and emotion in the media. But the event seemed more like a kangeroo court, and the accused were two journalists from the French Press Agency (AFP), a former Libération correspondent in Jerusalem, a journalist on Le Monde diplomatique, and a couple of university lecturers, almost all of whom were Jewish. Their main accuser was a self-styled geopolitician and expert on the Islamic world, Alexandre Del Valle, who was supported by two academics, Frédéric Encel and Jacques Tarnero, and Maurice Szafran, who is editor-in-chief of the weekly magazine Marianne. Del Valle and his assistants were backed by the city's Jewish organisations.

This episode can be seen as a trial run for the later media witch hunt conducted by unconditional supporters of Israel. It came soon after an opinion poll (1) showing that, while French people were more sympathetic to Israel than to Palestine (43 % to 32 %), they no longer believed that the Palestinians alone were responsible for the failure of the Camp David summit. An overwhelming majority (75 %)thought both sides equally to blame. There was more sympathy for the Israeli than the Palestinian position on Jerusalem (25 % to 17 %), but the opposite was true regarding the Israeli settlements (15 % to 36 %) and the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel (18 % to 27 %); 83 % favoured a two-state solution to the conflict. Finally, 61 % found France's Middle East policy even-handed, 12 % too favourable to the Israelis and 6 % too favourable to the Palestinians. Ariel Sharon's policies had never enjoyed so little support in France.

Michel Darmon, chairman of the France-Israel association, concluded that the Jewish community in France had been fighting the wrong battle for a decade: Our enemy isn't Jean-Marie Le Pen. It's French foreign policy. Elisabeth Schemla a former Nouvel Observateur journalist who has her own Middle East website, said the struggle for public opinion was a world-wide battle which Sharon had lost in two years.

If the association's struggle is to influence government policy, then many French Jews have to be enlisted in a fight to pressure the media. The enforcers of orthodoxy exploit the idea of ‘a threat to Jewish existence’, says Sylvain Cypel, a journalist on Le Monde. They appeal to the historical precedent of the Holocaust, when the Jewish resistance movements—left and rightwing Zionists, communists and Bundists (2)—had no option but to unite against Nazi savagery. A ‘threat to Israel's existence’ is used to close ranks in the Jewish community and delegitimise dissent.

This imposed unity has been based on anxieties after suicide bombings in Israel and contemptible attacks on Jews in France; the contemporary Jewish identity crisis also contributes (3). To combat the dangers, there has been an attempt to form a common front between intellectuals from both the left and the far right, an unnatural alliance in which far right attitudes prevail. Islamic fundamentalism has been equated with Islam as a whole, and with terrorism.

Roger Cukierman, who is chairman of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (Crif) described the far right's initial success in the French presidential election as a message to Muslims not to make trouble (4). While Bruno Mégret, who left Le Pen's Front National to form his own far-right group, declared: Faced with Islamic fundamentalism, we share the anxieties of the representative bodies of French Jewry.

Anti-Arab discourse

The closing of ranks in the Jewish community, according to a neo-fascist review, is accompanied by an often crudely racist anti-Arab discourse. Jewish communal organisations are calling upon intellectuals close to the radical right, like Alexandre Del Valle, who are known for their opposition to Islam. These people are now invited to speak at conferences and on radio and television programmes, provided they take the correct position on Israel. We have even seen the creation of an ultra-racist website called SOS-racaille (5), steered from a distance by Zionist organisations like Betar. The Zionist militias are now courting the far-right movements they have been fighting on the streets for 30 years (6).

Alexandre Del Valle (real name Marc D'Anna), has become the darling of some Jewish organisations, although for many years he pleaded the cause of rightwing extremists and Catholic fundamentalists. He supported Jean-Pierre Chevènement's Republican pole during the presidential campaign, but it is hard to believe he has turned his back on the far right when he writes: What we are up against is a third totalitarian system, a worldwide movement whose aim is to bring the whole planet under Islamic rule by waging a war of civilisations and religions (7).

Because my enemy's enemy is my friend, we find Pierre-André Taguieff, a philosopher and political scientist, describing as judeophobic Islamists, anti-Zionists, leftists, anti-globalisation militants and self-hating Jews, while Jacques Tarnero, a chargé de mission under former prime minister Laurent Fabius, describes the revamped vocabulary of progressive politics that clothes the old anti-Jewish hatred in acceptable, almost virtuous garb.

Many supporters of Israel seem Stalinist in their belief that the end justifies the means. They have created dozens of unacceptable websites, including one that corrects AFP copy by replacing the words occupied territories by western Eretz Israel, describing Palestinians as pollutants and referring to the murder of Palestinians as neutralisation. The militant Metula News Agency specialises in denouncing journalists. On the far right, calls for a boycott of all anti-Jewish vermin including Jewish renegades, identified by a star of David, who are promised a good crack on the jaw with a baseball bat.

Betar and the Jewish Defence League, linked to the Kach party, which is banned in Israel, have a reputation for violence already, including incidents at the Crif demonstration this April, when they attacked the Peace Now contingent. Other militants demonstrate outside the offices of media including AFP, Libération, Témoignage Chrétien and France 2. Le Monde's offices were plastered with slogans calling the newspaper antisemitic and one of its cartoonists, Jean Plantu, a Nazi. Others militants write threatening letters and emails. After some articles I get 10 to 50 letters a day, two thirds of them insulting or threatening, says Sylvain Cypel. The terms are often identical, which suggests an orchestrated campaign.

He said he was once interviewed on TFJ, France's Jewish TV channel, about his allegations of an Israeli spy network in the United States, whose existence has since been confirmed by Yediot Aharonot. To his amazement, after the interview there was a commentary on what he had said by a psychologist who described him as a self-hating Jew.

To the courtroom

The latest tactic is legal action. And the uncontested champion of the courtroom is Gilles-William Goldnadel, president of the French section of Lawyers Without Borders. After denouncing hatred (of Jews) in his Nouveau Bréviaire de la Haine (8), Goldnadel sprang to the defence of Oriana Fallaci's anti-Muslim diatribe. Ultra-Zionist lawyers have instituted six court cases in six months, all lost. Blaming the media for antisemitic violence is a way of intimidating editors and forcing journalists into self-censorship. This appears to be working. Analysis reveals cases where a concern for truth has been obstructed by caution. Libération has published several investigations of antisemitism among young Maghrebis in France but none of anti-Arab racism among French Jewish youth, although such stories have been suggested.

The intimidators are out to get certain journalists they consider dangerous. Some people make no secret of the fact they want me sacked, says France 2's Middle East correspondent, Charles Enderlin. He was in Israel during the first year of the intifada, where he was forced to move house because of threats. In Paris, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the France Television building to present him with the Goebbels prize for misinformation, after he reported the death of a young Palestinian child. General Giora Eiland later admitted that the bullet that killed the child was fired by the Israeli army, but the Metula News Agency, unable to prove that the shot came from the Palestinians, decided to assure its readers that the boy was still alive. Enderlin said: Nobody has ever taken legal action against me. These people cannot stand a Franco-Israeli journalist doing his job honestly.

Daniel Mermet, a producer of La-bas si je suis, a world current events programme on France Inter radio, was cleared on all counts in two lawsuits brought against him by Goldnagel's association, the International League against Racism and Antisemitism (Licra), and the Union of Jewish Students in France (UEJF). The first was an action for antisemitism concerning listeners' messages strongly critical of Israeli government policy. The court accepted Mermet's argument that the opinions expressed were unrelated to any racial considerations. The second case was an action for incitement to racial hatred concerning programmes in 1998 that had, in fact, been directly responsible for securing the conviction of Hans Münch, a Nazi doctor at Auschwitz, who had previously been acquitted after the war.

Although Mermet won both cases, he said he was badly affected: The lawsuits were a concerted attempt at character assassination and professional destruction. The approach to the management of Radio France shows they were out to get me sacked. My programme was a reference point in a media environment devoid of critical spirit, so we had to be shown up as antisemites of the left. But despite the verdicts, the people who persecuted me are still intimidating journalists. The cases received little coverage, whereas an attack on freedom of expression would normally have had the whole press up in arms. The programme's website collected over 20,000 signatures on a petition supporting Mermet.

A sensible warning

Pascal Boniface, director of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris) is another favourite target. In both a note to the leaders of the Socialist party, and a column in Le Monde (9), he warned the Jewish community that its strategy might lead to the emergence of an organised Muslim community representing 10 times as many voters. Everyone would be well advised to fight for universal principles rather than applying communal pressure.

This was clumsily worded, but sensible, yet the reaction was excessive. Boniface was denounced by the Israeli ambassador. Goldnadel, with Clément Weill-Raynal, a journalist with France 3 and chairman of the Association of Jewish Journalists in the French Press, demanded, unsuccessfully, the resignation of the Iris management board. Jean-François Strouf, a member of the Paris Jewish Consistory, blamed Boniface for the defeat of the Socialist party's presidential candidate, Lionel Jospin.

The usually restrained Jewish monthly L'Arche carried a three-page spread on Dr Pascal and Mr Boniface, suggesting Jekyll and Hyde. Michel Gurfinkiel, editor-in-chief of the weekly Valeurs Actuelles, described his attitude as the key to attacks on Jews. A campaign against him began in the Socialist party, where his note had been well received at the highest level. To call me an antisemite is dangerous, says Boniface, who received death threats after the incident. The gulf between what I write and these attacks is incredible. I feel like the victim of a fatwa.

Alexandra Schwartzbrod began work as Libération's Jerusalem correspondent just before the second intifada, and she learned quickly and well, according to Enderlin, but she moves back to Paris this month. Her embarrassed colleagues speak of political and professional problems. Since January the Metula News Agency has repeatedly accused her of incitement to racial hatred and anti-Israel propaganda, and reported triumphantly in July: Alexandra Schwartzbrod is leaving at last! Our friends at Libération are pleased to be able to confirm the rumour.

This pressure has intimidated the press, but it may have had the opposite effect on public opinion. According to an unpublished poll (10), support for the Israeli position rose from 14 % to 16 % from October 2000 to April 2002, while support for the Palestinians rose from 18 % to 30 % over the same period. In the event of a military conflict, 31 % would blame the Israeli authorities ( 20 % in October 2000), and 12 % the Palestinians (down from 14 %). Only 47 % considered media reports objective (56 % in October 2000), while 16 % thought them too favourable to Israel (compared with 9 %) and 14 % too favourable to the Palestinians (compared with 9 %).

This public relations setback is causing doubts. During the campaign against Charles Enderlin, the Crif distanced itself from extremists. In his next lawsuit, Goldnadel will have to manage without Licra and the UEJF. Marianne, which was for a while in the forefront of denunciations of Jews who refused to toe the line, has calmed down. Perhaps it has been understood that antisemitism cannot be fought using the ideology of the far right.

It is time to end a situation in which—to quote Elie Barnavi's Lettre ouverte aux Juifs de France (11)—the extremists shout their extremism from the rooftops, probably because they are unaware of it, while the majority talk in whispers.


(1) L'Express, Paris, 8 November 2001.

(2) Members of the General Jewish Workers' Bund, a non-Zionist socialist party founded in Russia in 1897.

(3) See Sylvie Braibant and Dominique Vidal, What does it mean to be Jewish?, Le Monde diplomatique, English language edition, August 2002.

(4) Ha'aretz, Tel Aviv, 22 April 2002. In the same issue, Pierre-André Taguieff maintains that nobody has yet been able to identify Le Pen unequivocally as an antisemite.

(5) SOS-rabble, a pun on the name of the French anti-racist organisation SOS-racism.

(6) Jeune Résistance, Paris, No. 25, winter 2001.

(7) Le Figaro, 16 October 2002. See Le Totalitarisme islamiste à l'assaut des démocraties, Editions des Syrtes, Paris, 2002.

(8) Authorised prayerbook of hatred, Ramsay, Paris, 2001.

(9) 4 August 2001.

(10) BVA poll for the Revue d'études palestiniennes, Paris. (11) Open letter to the Jews of France, Stock-Bayard, Paris, 2002.