The following article by Brett Kline covers the renewed al Durah affair. The piece at least brings in new voices, in particular those who wish, mightily, to dismiss the whole affair. In particular, he has a fascinating and disturbing quote from Clément Weill Raynal that epitomizes a characteristic and troubling aspect of French intellectual life — intellectual probity vs. cynicism — which in turn raises a fundamental issue in the constitution and survival of a civil society.
Al-Dura controversy lives on
PARIS (JTA) — Ever since Mohammed al-Dura was shot and killed at Gaza’s Netzarim Junction on Sept. 30, 2000, some have claimed the boy’s death was staged for prime-time television.
One of them, the director of a small French media watchdog group called Media Ratings, is going to court Wednesday to defend his version of the controversial story.
Philippe Karsenty will be appealing a 2006 decision that he slandered state-run France 2 television, whose camerman caught the 12-year-old’s death on tape during the fateful exchange of gunfire between Israeli forces and Palestinians.
Karsenty was slapped with two $1,380 fines — one to be paid to France 2 and one to the station’s reporter — and ordered to pay another $4,000 in court costs when he wrote that the shooting was a hoax, saying it constituted a “masquerade that dishonors France and its public television.”
He says the original trial was a travesty. Some partisan Jewish groups like the Zionist Organization of America and Camera-The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America have lined up behind him, but French Jewish groups have withheld their support.
Note that this is phrased in the terminology of what the French would call “communautarisme” — the conflict between “partisan” Jewish groups, and, generally, the French Jewish community, which has “withheld its support.” It’s important to realize that as much as Americans on the right and the left dismiss each other’s arguments as dishonestly partisan, the situation in France/Europe — especially in what concerns Israel — is far worse. Gentiles who defend Israel or discuss the serious rise of antisemitism in Europe, readily find their interlocutors responding, “Oh, I didn’t know you were Jewish.” Much of this debate has been handled at this level, rather than the substantive one.
That would not be so bad, in and of itself, if it were not that the accusations of bad-faith communautarisme are directed overwhelmingly and vehemently against Israel. Where the French are systematically méfiant (suspicious) of anything a Jew says in support of Israel, they are terminally credulous of anything a Palestinian says in support of his cause. As a result, the avowedly militant and devastatingly effective partisanship of Talal abu Rahmah’s “journalism” — amply on display in his as-yet unseen rushes — cannot be called into question. To do so, according to opponents of such a thesis, would be to get involved in a conspiracy theory.
It’s the latest twist to a controversial episode that became an instant icon for Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israeli brutality but later turned out to be as murky as the origins of the intifada itself.
Some Israel supporters, among them Karsenty, now point to the incident as a sign of Palestinian manipulation of the media against Israel.
“I feel like there should be a debate going on here in Paris — having nothing to do with me, but with the events themselves — but there is nothing,” Karsenty told JTA.
I assume what he means here is, “…having nothing to do with my personality [flaws], and everything to do with substance.” Don’t hold your breath, Philippe. Indeed, Paris should be grappling with this, especially Sarkozy’s Paris. The French media could, with a major mea culpa, start to get us all back on track. Lord knows, they sure have no hesitation telling the Israelis they should be more self-critical.
But they are not. And one of the intelligentsia’s excuses, is a combination of lassitude and cynicism. “Mais, c’est des faits divers,” a colleague’s companion said to me. It’s a human interest story. Everyone does that. It’s like the young French anti-war activist who told me in 2003, “Bush, c’est pour le petrol.” Bush’s war is about oil. “Et Chirac, c’est pas pour le petrol?” I asked. “Ben oui, bien sûr.” Of course.
Karsenty is not the first to question the conventional version of the story, which has Israeli troops firing the rounds that hit the boy and left him to die in his father’s arms.
While Israeli army officials initially apologized for al-Dura’s death, a subsequent Israel Defense Forces investigation found that its soldiers could not possibly have struck the boy from their positions at Netzarim Junction, an ongoing flashpoint for violence between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.
Karsenty goes even further, maintaining that France 2 TV and its Israel correspondent, Charles Enderlin, staged the incident with the active participation of the station’s cameraman in Gaza, Talal Abu Rahma.
Not at all. Has Kline read the original article? Did Karsenty say this in the interview? I strongly doubt it. This sounds like something his hostile sources told him Karsenty said.
On the contrary, Karsenty argues that Talal staged the scene, not that Enderlin staged it with the active participation of Talal. As he put it in the article that got him in all this trouble:
Charles Enderlin se trompe; et du même coup, il nous trompe. [Charles Enderlin is wrong and at the same time he’s misleading us.]
Indeed, one of the big questions among those who know the dossier — which I suspect is not the case for our journalist — is: “What does Charles Enderlin know and when did he know it?” Most are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and grant that he may have been fooled initially — a dramatic lapse of judgment, but not an act of malice. The more contested ground is, “how quickly did he realize that he’d been duped, and why hasn’t he admitted it.” Like so many “conspiracy theories” (which assume meticulously effective planning), this one comes down to a massive effort to cover incompetence.
Karsenty relies primarily on journalists who have viewed additional raw footage of the incident and saw Palestinians pretending to be shot, then springing up to replay the same scenes. Such footage would suggest the al-Dura shooting was staged, too.
Well not exactly, but okay… certainly in the case of the fake funeral that we show in Pallywood. But it’s dangerous to set up false expectations. There are a couple of scenes where you can see that kind of stuff, but that’s only part of what makes it clear that these are fakes. Kline is apparently working entirely on hearsay.
Others have suggested that France 2 and Enderlin were not involved in the hoax but were duped by Rahma. Enderlin, a veteran journalist and a Jew, was not in Gaza that day and did the voice-over for the shooting story from the West Bank, relying on the footage Rahma provided him.
This is Karsenty’s position, although in order to hold that position, you have to wonder just how far into self-deception Charles Enderlin can go to hide from his cognitive dissonance).
“I believe the cameraman screwed Enderlin and France 2,” said Luc Rosenzweig, the former editor in chief of France’s daily Le Monde.
Rosenzweig, who has seen the raw footage, added: “The most plausible hypothesis is that the images of the boy are staged.”
Nice way to put it. Given the evidence, the odds are overwhelming that it was staged, but there’s some remote possibility that he was shot by Palestinians. (I don’t think so, not because I don’t think the thugs that call the shots in Palestine wouldn’t do that to one of “their own” — they treat their own people terribly, which is a key element in the tragedy — but because the evidence seems overwhelmingly to argue that the boy was not shot in the footage we see.)
A year ago, a Paris judge determined otherwise, finding Karsenty guilty of slander. But Karsenty says last year’s trial was bungled.
“I went to court with experts offering testimony and analysis,” he said, but the judge “asked no questions about anything.”
Karsenty said the attorney for France 2 handed the judge a letter of praise for the public television network from President Jacques Chirac, which mostly brought the trial to an end.
“The court criticized the television for not showing up and then decided in its favor,” Karsenty said. “This time I have more evidence to present and Chirac is no longer president. ”
The role of which way the winds from the Elysée Palace blow in this affair is something relatively significant, if not necessarily determinant. The current judge, from what I’ve heard and read, seems significantly less “programmed” than previous ones. But having one’s finger to the wind is an inveterate French intellectual passtime.
More than anything else, Karsenty and his supporters want the court to order France 2 TV to release the raw footage of the incident. Among others, the IDF has sent a letter to France 2 demanding the footage be released.
Morton Klein, the Zionist Organization of America’s national president, sent France 2 a similar letter.
“We’re not taking the position that al-Dura’s alive; it’s possible he’s alive,” Klein said. “Those who have seen the additional film say you see his head pick up and look around. This is not likely of a person who’s dead.”
I wonder if Klein has viewed this footage or is taking the word of a third-hand account. The scene to which he refers is in the Talal rushes, but part of the 3 minutes Charles Enderlin made available and you can see (a poor copy of) here. The scene in question — take 6 of the 59-second “death sequence” (out of “45 minutes of shooting at the boy, according to Talal) — was indeed cut by Enderlin from his newsreport, but you can see it here. It comes two takes after Enderlin has declared the boy dead (take 4). The photo below represents the high point of Muhammad al Durah’s lifing up his eblow and looking out, while holding his hand inexplicably over his eyes rather than his stomach. Bizarre indeed for a boy whose just died of a stomach wound.
(Note also that the father has turned away from the boy: far from the “myth” that he died in his father’s arms, the father never even reaches for his “dying” son.)
France 2 dismisses the claims.
“Frankly, these hearings are of little importance,” said its communications director, Christine de la Vena. “Enderlin is a top professional journalist and the images are real.”
That’s deep… and informed. I think that was called “stonewalling” during Watergate. Note the strategy. Affirm Enderlin’s status, rather than address the substantive issues. We get similar remarks about Talal, as if, to affirm their status rendered the criticism, ipso facto, false.
“Everyone has forgotten about this case except this man in the hearing and a couple of others who refuse to give it up. Only in France could a couple of individuals cause so much trouble.”
Wow. So its role explosive role in the Muslim world, including European — French! — Muslims, and which continues to this day, is not important. We insiders want to drop this, so we’ll ignore those to whom it’s significant.
As for the “only in France…” comment: apparently, she’s unaware of the Dan Rather case in the USA. But then, few accuse the French of paying close attention to what’s going on around the rest of the world. More significant, is her dismissal. ‘Nobody but these kooks cares.’ Like my colleague’s companion — “c’est des faits divers.”
This attitude both explains and echoes the logic behind the reluctance of both the Israelis and the “French Jewish community” invoked at the beginning of the article to deal with this issue — “Let sleeping dog’s lie,” they insist, at once unwilling to challenge the whithering contempt of the guardians of the public sphere like de la Vena here, and eager to believe that the story has at long last been put to rest.
But what if that is delusion? This case has generated, and continues to generate, violent hatreds. To pretend that it doesn’t is folly, suicidal folly. To be so dismissive is either dishonest or delusional. It replicates Enderlin’s intellectual position and raises the same questions about the speaker as we have about Enderlin himself. Can she understand so little? Or is it just her job to spin.
Several U.S. news outlets have run stories about Karsenty and the al-Dura controversy, including The New Republic and The New York Times. Some have compared the al-Dura controversy to the infamous Dreyfus case, when it took 12 years to prove the innocence of the French Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus. Others have called the al-Dura case a classic blood libel against the Jews.
It’s actually both. It’s a travesty of justice, but it has operated as a blood libel with global repercussions. If I had to compare it to what was going on in France at the turn of 1900, I’d say it’s a combination of the Dreyfus Affair and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (which were first composed in Paris at that time). It’s what Charles Strozier calls an “atrocity-producing” narrative, and it’s most successful progeny is suicide terrorism, which by now kills far more Muslims than anyone else.
Among journalists in France, Jewish or not, few seem to be buying Karsenty’s story.
“The problem here is Karsenty himself,” said Stephane Bou, who has written on the subject for Charlie Hebdo, a satirical political weekly. “He is known here for being obsessed with international plots against Jews and against Israel.”
Dear Stephane, please send me the articles. I can’t find them at Charlie Enchainé. In the meantime, what you offer here (if the quotes are accurate) is mere ad hominem and no treatment of substantive issues. Karsenty may be a problem, but as long as we’re willing to “understand” how feeling no hope leads young Palestinians to blow themselves up in the midst of Israeli civilians, let’s give a second’s thought to how hard it is to know that something is very wrong and be told you’re delusional (or trite) by the people you’re trying to reach.
But the issue goes far beyond Karsenty and reaches into the unwillingness of people on the inside (like Stephane) to keep the rambunctious outsider out. And the way to shed light on the subject rather than blow smoke in our eyes, is to deal with the data, not make the right noises to marginalize voices that may have important things to say.
Karsenty represents something of an archetype: The Jew who steadfastly maintains that despite overwhelming skepticism, the establishment is out to get the Jews. In this case it’s the media.
This is a very interesting formulation. Karsenty defies the “overwhelming skepticism,” of his “colleagues. So of course he must be wrong. Could all these good professional people be wrong? How absurd to say that the media is “out to get the Jews.” Ipso facto, any suggestion of this must be false.
Note again a kind of ad hominem. We’re still not dealing with substance. We dismiss Karsenty’s argument — this was staged — because if it were true, it would mean that the media did something awful, very harmful to the Jews, and we don’t believe that a) they do this on purpose, or b) that they even do it for reasons they don’t understand (unconsciously, or, as Marx would say, “objectively”). Hence, “we” — those in the know, the gatekeepers of the public discourse — reject out of hand the possibility that it was staged. And we’re not going to pay attention to the evidence which might raise troubling questions. We already know the answer to those questions.
This is sterile thought, and raises the question treated by Jean-Claude Millner, in his Une vie intellectuelle, existe-t-elle en France?. Is there [a genuine] intellectual life in France. Smart people, articulate? Yes. Informed? Highly (about the things they want to pay attention to). Serious, substantive, courageous? Not necessarily. As Pierre Taguieff said in one of his commentaries on the appalling attitude of the French intelligentsia (which includes the media) towards Israel: “When all the fish swim in the same direction, it’s because they’re dead.”
If future historians (or present culture-critics) wish to know why there’s so little debate in French society about the Israeli-Palestinian issue, why both right and left are homogenously anti-Zionist, they need to look at this kind of superficial discourse, with its appeals to the “consensus” and its ad hominems, on the one hand, and at the “group think” culture that shames everyone who defends Israel as a communautariste, on the other. Gentiles “become” Jews — a dirty word in 21st century Paris (a pen that doesn’t work is a stylo juif) — just by swimming against the “intellectual” current.
It’s a position in which pro-Israel watchdog groups, including ZOA and Camera, often find themselves.
What the French call “communautariste,” we call “partisan.” How strange that a watchdog group that carefully documents its case, like CAMERA, would be presented in such a light. But then, that’s how this “in-crowd” discourse works, here as well as there. People deal not with substance, but appearances… where did it appear? Le Monde? Okay. Figaro? Not sure. MENA, they’re kooks. It doesn’t matter that, like the blogosphere relationship to the MSM, MENA‘s relationship to Le Monde on the matter of Muhammad al Durah as superior by a very long shot. (See my next post of Tom Segev’s article in Ha-aretz).
Rosenzweig suggested that the case has not made waves in the French media because France 2, the flagship of French public television, is considered quite powerful.
It’s surely a big player in this case, and I’ll post some material on why Jeambar and Leconte dropped off the scene shortly after their startling revelations. Indeed, to bring up the Dreyfus case as an analogy, the modern French (and Western) media are the equivalent of the Church in this affair coming to the aid of the Palestinians (by analogy, the army), and if we call their credibility into question, then we risk a collapse of authority and therefore the stability of the culture. Hence defend the MSM at all costs.
And if France2 throws it’s weight around, picking on small fry like Karsenty to harrass with suits rather than answer the criticism, why should the intellectuals side with the Goliath and not the David? If the French can get so indignant about the way powerful America throws its weight around in the world, why should it side with the French bullies here?
“You know, I think this whole affair is dead in the water,” said a senior journalist at France 3 TV, Clement Weill Raynal, who is also a well-known contributor to Jewish media. “Karsenty is so shocked that fake images were used and edited in Gaza, but this happens all the time everywhere on television and no TV journalist in the field or a film editor would be shocked. This has become more about him than anything else.”
This is my favorite quote of the article. On one level, even as it is similar in its tone of dismissal to the remarks of de la Vena and Bou, its content radically contradicts their argument. And in that paradox, we get at some of the key issues here.
Is it shocking that fakes are being used? According to what Charles Enderlin said to me, and other people at France2 said to Rosenzweig, Leconte and Jeambar, “Of course, they do it all the time.” Everyone knows they stage stuff. Karsenty thus becomes a spoof of the Claude Rains character from Casablanca: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”
But wait a minute. By this logic, Karsenty is being sued for defamation of character, for saying that Enderlin is doing what, according to Weill Raynal, everyone knows he (and everyone else) is doing, namely taking staged material and turning it into news. (Note that Weill Raynal is a senior journalist for France3, so if he says this, he may know something we don’t. Others have reported that, off the record, “everyone” knows Karsenty is right.)
Either that’s a serious accusation (“Bush is in it for the oil”) or it’s a trite commonplace (“Of course Chirac is in it for the oil”). The very way Weill Raynal dismisses Karsenty’s complaint justifies Karsenty’s case. In other words, whether Weill Raynal knows it or not, he’s basically saying Karsenty is right so he should stop belly-aching for telling the truth. What’s your problem, dude? You don’t think it’s fair that you’re being found guilty of defaming Enderlin for doing what “everyone” including Enderlin, is doing? How terminally naïve.
There’s something profoundly honor-shame about all of this: Karsenty is found guilty for telling the truth that everyone knows privately because it’s not about the truth, it’s about appearances. Karsenty’s guilt is in for breaking with homerta, and being impolite enough to blow the whistle, and France2 and its allies in the MSM like Weill Raynal at France2 and Tom Segev at Ha-aretz, will come to his aid, to cover his ass.
We have several possible ways to understand Weill Raynal’s remarkably revealing and self-contradictory comment.
1) Weill Raynal doesn’t even realize how self-contradictory his argument is, and he therefore offers us a good example of Millner’s claim that the French “intelligentsia” lack genuine intellectual commitment, which in turn helps us understand Taguieff’s comment about why all the fish swim in the same [anti-Zionist] direction: they’re intellectually moribund.
2) Weill Raynal knows perfectly well that this is morally dishonest, but since that kind of cynical lassitude works well as an argument especially in France, he’ll use it to dump on the outsider and protect the insiders. Basically, he doesn’t care about intellectual consistency, and in his own perverse way, he’s just articulating a variant of France2 spokesman, Christine de la Vena’s “nobody cares.”
3) Weill Raynal may sense that this is dishonest, but he is driven to this kind of argument by his desire to shut the affair up, because his “peer group” would be embarrassed by the results.
4) Weill Raynal is really supporting Karsenty by giving away the game, and is just waiting for someone like me to unpack the devastating implications of his remark for France2 and Enderlin’s position in trying to silence Karsenty by accusing him of defaming them for doing just what Weill Raynal admits that they do — run staged footage as news.
Indeed, the argument not only supports Karsenty’s argument about staging — of course, it’s banal! — but it contradicts the “overwhelming skepticism” about the French media for being anti-Israel. If they do indeed regularly take Palestinian staging, launder it by cutting out the obvious parts, and present it as news — the definition of Pallywood — then they systematically misinform the public about what’s going on “over there” by systematically presenting the Israelis as the aggressors and the Palestinians as the victims — the goal of Pallywood.
In other words, at the very least, the French media as described by Weill Raynal are “objectively” anti-Zionist, whether they mean to be or not. And if they don’t mean to be nasty, they apparently couldn’t be bothered to fix the problem, since it’s just not important enough. The hyper-skeptic Weill Raynal has just undermined the “skeptical consensus” that cannot believe that the French media is “out to get” Israel.
But people do care, and should care. If they don’t, then their media becomes irretrievably corrupted, a kind of permanent Augean Stables, in which the stench of propaganda has become so familiar, one no longer notices or cares, and to protect themselves, they accuse those who try not to do propaganda of doing it “just like everyone else.”
Ultimately, this supremely cyncial argument is that of a culture that has renounced the fight for what makes a civil society possible. It’s the argument of a corrupt (media) elite that knows it lies and cheats regularly and doesn’t care: what’s the big deal?
And yet — here’s the rub — it also knows that in order for the lies and cheating to work, they have to fool the public. Al Durah could not have caused the furor that it did, had it not been edited to avoid giving away the game. The lie only works if the public believes it. In “public,” Enderlin insists that Talal is a first-class journalist. Indeed, why would Enderlin sue Karsenty for defamation for saying he placed staged footage on the news, if that accusation were as uninteresting as Weill Raynal claims?
In private, France2 is all winks and rolled eyes: “it happens all the time.” In public, France2 is a (sinister) Claude Rains saying, “I’m shocked, shocked to find out that there are people who dare say I run staged stuff as news!”
So we have the striking (and profoundly “medieval”) contrast of an elite that holds the commoners in contempt even as they want that public’s trust, on the one hand, and a whistleblower whose message to that same public is, “beware the consequences of such violations of journalistic standards,” on the other. Who will the public listen to? Who will the French MSM allow that public to hear?
Ultimately the logic here is that of an honor-shame society (the same that drove the anti-Dreyfusards). It’s fine to lie. Everyone does it. Just don’t get caught. If you’re caught, you will be humiliated. In order to avoid humiliation, do what you have to, including ad-hominem attacks, contemptuous dismissals, and getting your colleagues to close ranks. My profession, right or wrong.
The real tragedy in this remark by Weill Raynal, who has attended many if not all the trials — he’s the brother of the third defendant’s lawyer, Aude — is that he is also the journalist who was at Place de la République on October 6, 2000 and heard the crowd, banner equating Israel to Nazism with a picture of al Durah aloft, shouting “Death to the Jews!” — the first time such a cry had been heard in the streets of Europe since before the Holocaust.
Banner at the demonstration of 6 October, 2000. in Place de la République where the crowd shouted “Death to the Jews! Death to Israel!” Note that the equation of Israel to Nazism is done “under the aegis” as it were, of the picture of Muhammad al Durah. The legend above the picture reads, “they also kill kids.”
If anyone should know the damage this particular staged icon has done, one would think it would be he. And yet, he can’t even say, “we need to know more about this.” He needs to side with the 21st century “church” of France, the fifth estate.
Fortunately, not all the players here are so intellectually moribund. At least for a shining brief moment, Leconte and Jeambar were capable of moral indignation at Enderlin’s appalling journalistic standards. When told, “they do it all the time,” Jeambar responded indignantly, “you may know that, but the public doesn’t.”
Indeed it doesn’t. The danger is, that by giving out these cues, Weill Raynal and his colleagues who dismiss the affair as Karsenty’s personal pecadillo, are preparing the public to greet the revelation of the rushes not with genuine shock and indigation, but with a yawn.
I’m willing to bet, that when people see how patent the fakes, at least a goodly number will be in as much shock as I was. I certainly know that Americans will view this kind of stuff unkindly. Dan Rather has never to my knowledge, defended himself by saying, “Oh come on, everyone does it.” (On the contrary, he, in his own version of saving face, is still insisting he’s innocent.) Arlette Chabot did not blanche as white as the wall when she saw the rushes with Leconte, Jeambar and Rosenzweig because it didn’t matter whether the stuff were staged or not. Nor was Maitre Amblard. in her response to the judge’s question “Are any of these scenes staged?” willing to respond, “No duh.”
Still, Karsenty refuses to relent.
“The journalists here think I am a rabble-rouser,” he said, “but I think I am a whistle-blower. We’ll see what happens in court.”
Nice, graceful finale, even if the overall thrust of the article does make Karsenty look like the former — a stiff-necked trouble maker. If Mr. Kline wants to go any further in this matter, let him talk to some people like Nidra Poller, Pierre-André Taguieff and Shmuel Trigano, who still have a commitment to thinking seriously about serious issues, and actually know some of the details of the case.
Let’s hope the judge will be as shocked at the evidence, as she implied she would be at discovering systematic staging. Things will be interesting on November 14… if it happens. In a funny way, the future of the West depends on its ability to rediscover moral outrage about matters like this. Otherwise, if the media behaves consistently as Weill Raynal, in his cynicism insists it does, we are a massive blinded beast lumbering about, prey to the thousand slashes of the velociraptors who smell blood.
JTA Associate Editor Uriel Heilman in New York contributed to this report.
Thanks for the grist for my mill, Brett, but hopefully next time you can a) be better informed, b) challenge your interviewees when they say hopelessly contradictory, superficial or inaccurate things, and c) serve your public better than handing over as respectable consensus, the smell of dead fish swimming in the same direction.