Sharansky Calls for France2 to Release the Tapes

Natan Sharansky, former minister of Diaspora Affairs (2003-5), who experienced the wave of anti-Zionism and and anti-Semitism that swept the globe and in particular Europe in the aftermath of the al Durah footage’s circulation has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. The pressure on France2 mounts.

Palestinian Propaganda Coup

By NATAN SHARANSKY
October 2, 2007; Page A17

Last month, a French court heard an appeals case whose forthcoming verdict will have far-reaching ramifications for all who value truth and accuracy in Middle East news reporting. The case involves Philippe Karsenty, a French journalist and media commentator, who was found guilty of defamation after he called for the firing of two France 2 Television journalists responsible for the Sept. 30, 2000, news report on the alleged killing of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammed al-Dura, by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

It has been seven years since France 2 Television broadcast the excruciating footage of Mohammed and his father Jamal crouching in terror behind a barrel in Gaza’s Netzarim Junction while, according to the report, under relentless fire from IDF soldiers. The 59-second clip, which ends with the boy apparently shot dead, was presented around the world as an unambiguous case of Israeli savagery.

The tape fanned the flames of what became known as the second intifada. The boy Mohammed was the iconic martyr, his name and face gracing streets, parks and postage stamps across the Arab world. His memory was invoked by Osama bin Laden in a jihadist screed against America, and in the ghastly video of the beheading of American Jewish journalist, Daniel Pearl.

Shortly following the al-Dura incident, however, a series of inquiries cast grave doubt on the accuracy of the original France 2 report. The official IDF investigation concluded that, based on the position of IDF forces vis-à-vis the Duras, it was highly improbable, if not impossible, that an Israeli bullet hit the boy. Research by the Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic and Commentary magazine concurred. Then a German documentary revealed inconsistencies and probable manipulations in the account of France 2’s lone journalist on the scene that day, Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahmeh.

And yet France 2 refused to release Abu Rahmeh’s full 27 minutes of raw footage. It did, however, agree to let three prominent French journalists view the footage. All three concluded that it comprised blatantly staged scenes of Palestinians being shot by Israeli forces, and that France 2’s Jerusalem Bureau Chief Charles Enderlin had lied to conceal that fact.

Subsequently, alleging gross malfeasance, Mr. Karsenty called for the firings of Mr. Enderlin and France 2 News Director Arlette Chabot. But France 2 stood defiant, suing Mr. Karsenty for defamation.

The defamation trial passed almost unnoticed in Israel, to the apparent detriment of Mr. Karsenty’s case. In his ruling in favor of France 2, judge Joël Boyer five times cited the absence of any official Israeli support for Mr. Karsenty’s claims as indication of their speciousness.

Israel’s decision to stay on the sidelines was unfortunate because the truth always matters. The al-Dura incident wasn’t the only media report to inflame passions against Israel in recent years, but it was the one with the highest profile. Moreover, if, as Mr. Karsenty and others have claimed persuasively, the al-Dura incident is part of the insidious trend in which Western media outlets allow themselves to be manipulated by dishonest and politically motivated sources (recall the Jenin “massacre” that never was, or the doctored Reuters photos from Israel’s war against Hezbollah in 2006), then France 2 must be held accountable.

It is important to note that the al-Dura news report profoundly influenced Western public opinion. When I served in the Israeli government as minister of Diaspora Affairs from 2003 to 2005, I traveled frequently to North American college campuses. I heard first hand how Mohammed al-Dura had shaped the perceptions of young people just beginning to follow events in the Middle East. For many Jewish students, the incident was a stain of dishonor that called into question their support for Israel. For anti-Israel students, the story reaffirmed their sense of Zionism’s innately “racist” nature and became a tool for recruiting campus peers to the cause.

Note this dual effect: inciting to hatred among enemies of Israel (and, I’d be willing to suggest, civil society), and paralyzing any ability to respond effectively.

To its credit, Israel has come to recognize that it must play an active role in uncovering the truth. The IDF recently sent a letter to France 2 demanding the release of Talal Abu Rahmeh’s 27 minutes of raw footage, asserting the implausibility of IDF guilt for the death of Mohammad al-Dura, and raising the possibility that the entire affair may have been staged.

Tragically, there is no way to repair the damage inflicted on Israel’s international image by the France 2 report, much less restore the Israeli and Jewish victims whose lives were exacted as vengeance. It is possible, however, to deter slanderous news reporting — and the violence that often accompanies it — by setting a precedent for media accountability via the handover of Talal Abu Rahmeh’s full 27 minutes of raw footage. Encouragingly, the judge presiding over Mr. Karsenty’s appeal has now requested the tapes. France 2 must make a full public disclosure. If there is nothing to hide, why should it refuse?

Mr. Sharansky is chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.

The damage cannot be undone, but in the effort to turn back the wave of global Jihad that this footage has provoked, this affair can go a long way in contributing both in the West and in the Muslim world where moderates can point to the way that this kind of lying has poisoned their own world with hatred and violence. In the end, the victims of anti-Semitism are always the anti-Semites.

9 Responses to Sharansky Calls for France2 to Release the Tapes

  1. […] la traduction française de l’article de Sharansky dans le Wall Street Journal. Merci à Alain […]

  2. Michael says:

    Is it not highly probable that, even in the event of a favourable judgement for Karsenty, the court is unlikely to make any definitive statements? It’s not as though a grand pronouncement of Israeli innocence in the affair could be expected, even if the judge decides that there is much fakery evident in the footage. That still wouldn’t prove that Israel hadn’t killed the boy. Despite the positive turn of events regarding the raw footage, I believe we might be expecting too much from this process.

    The questions I would like to ask may be rather stupid, or naive, and if so I hope someone will at least tell me why: Why was the father not a witness at the trial? Why do we never hear any testimony from the actual soldiers present in the Israeli post that day? Why is Talal Abu-Rahmeh not grilled by lawyers as he was by reporters? Why is the photograph of the dead boy so elusive? It seems to have become a drama without any of the actors, and as such may never be resolved.

  3. fp says:

    mike,

    I am with you on this one: it is wishful thinking that this will change, given the public attitudes towards the conflict which are 99% based on ignorance and propaganda.

    consider the protocol of the elders of zion: it WAS proved a fake a long time ago. yet it is continuously used as if it were true.

    the root problem is that the west is so scared shitless of islamism and so unwilling to defend its culture that it uses israel as a scapegoat in the delusion that by doing away with it they can save their ass. the propaganda by the arabs just provides them with the excuse they need to justify their position.

    this is what anti-semitism has always been about: scapegoating. israel is now seen as an inconvenient state and no amount of facts or reality can change that.

  4. Solomonia says:

    Al-Dura to be Exhumed

    I have heard (Israeli media is reporting) that Mohammed al-Dura’s father, Jamal, has agreed to have the son’s body exhumed and examined — something I believe he refused seven years ago.  I’m not sure what can come of such an…

  5. Eliyahu says:

    Michael & fp, you’re right that proof that the affair is based on a hoax is not likely to make much impact. As fp says, proof since 1920 by Graves [Philip Graves?] that the Protocols was a forgery and plagiarism from Maurice Joly’s Dialogue aux Enfers entre Machiavel et Montesquieu has not stopped many reprintings of the tract and an almost religious belief in it by many. On the other hand, it might help if Joly’s original pamphlet were republished and translated into major languages and widely distributed.

    But many people WANT to believe in the Protocols and many also want to believe all of the slander against Israel. That includes many “leftists,” such as one Prof Mark LeVine who identifies himself as a product of Roman Catholic education. Of course, I can’t know whether and/or to what extent such an education influenced or shaped LeVine’s views of Jews and Israel. But he accepts many anti-Israel claims that are grossly false, albeit they may be well accepted [even religiously cherished] in his circles.

  6. My last article from four about the scandal, Mohammed al-Dura, with lots of links in English and French.

    Jetzt wird´s eng fuer Charles Enderlin, in German.

  7. Michael says:

    Eliyahu, this catholic-educated commenter can only apologise for the repugnant lunacy regurgitated by the likes of “Prof” LeVine.

    My point was not merely that some people will continue to WANT to believe in these blood libels, but rather that the showing of the rushes is not necessarily even going to win the appeal for Karsenty. A judge may well decide that there is not enough definitive evidence in the rushes to overturn the original verdict, the judge will not be passing a judgement on Pallywood generally, and may not have the context in which to understand what the rushes show. (And you are right; even if the appeal is won, people will ignore news that doesn’t fit their preconceptions, especially if the pro-Pal European media choose to sideline it).

    But in any case, this fight is worth it. It is heartening to see Israel starting to fight back in the media war at last, and the more cracks we can open in the facade of lies the better, especially at a time when the true nature of the society the Palestinians have been building is becoming increasingly and violently obvious to more and more people.

  8. fp says:

    michael,

    exactly right.

    as to israel fighting, i’m sure you won’t set your expectations too high. israe used to have the initiative. it’s been a long time since it lost it. in its situation this is lethal.

    i’m beginning to think that it’s following europe into suicidal wishful thinking.

  9. Eliyahu says:

    Michael, you’re right of course. People will ignore news that causes cognitive dissonance. But the fight is worth it.

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