Just Don’t Touch their Symbol
(Article by Ben-Dror Yemini, Ma’ariv, 20.6.08, Weekend Supplement, pp. 18-19)
En français au site de l’UPJF.
Everyone remembers the death of Muhammad Al-Dura. France 2 accused the IDF; the Israeli media went along. One Frenchman dared to doubt and began a kulturkampf; the Israeli media was silent. It has now become clear that he was right. Israel is still silent.
The Muhammad Al-Dura affair refuses to die. In Israel, it is mainly the first part that is recognized. In France, in recent weeks, there are those who are already calling it a new Dreyfus Affair.
The beginning is well-known. The pictures that were broadcast seven and a half years ago shocked public opinion in the country and around the world. They saw a father and boy hiding behind a barrel. They shout for their lives as the bullets strike them. The father tries to protect his son. Unsuccessfully. Tal Abu-Rahma, the France 2 cameramen, delivered the material to the network’s well known and veteran Jerusalem correspondent, Charles Enderlin. From the raw material, the latter filtered less than 60 seconds of harsh and horrifying footage, and added commentary that cast the responsibility on IDF soldiers. Within a few days, this item became the harshest propaganda ever against the State of Israel. Whoever tried to cast doubts then was considered a heretic. After all, there was photographic evidence and there is nothing higher.
Muhammad Al-Dura became a symbol. Public squares have been named after him. Stamps have been issued in his honor. The Palestinian poet Muhammad Darwish dedicated a poem to him. His pictures became much better known than that of the Jewish boy raising his hands opposite a Nazi soldier. Already, one can no longer count the number of times Al-Dura has been cited in articles written against Israel around the world. And not just against Israel. For some of the writers, well-known authors, Nobel laureates, Israel became a Nazi, child-murdering country. This did not happen solely due to Muhammad Al-Dura’s 60 seconds. But the weight of that short clip was very high. This was biting, ultimate evidence of Israel’s murderous character.
But there were a few among us, and around the world as well, who thought that something was amiss in those 58 seconds that became a global sensation. Among those was Israeli physicist Nahum Shahaf, who was a member of the committee of inquiry that was appointed shortly afterwards. There was also Esther Schapira from German television, who came to curse because she was convinced that the IDF had killed the boy, but it became clear to her that France 2’s version had more holes in it than Swiss cheese. There was also Luc Rosenzweig, a respected French journalist, formerly of Le Monde, who had prepared his own investigation. His editor did not believe what he saw. They went together, along with another journalist, to the heads of France 2 in order to view all of the footage that was filmed that bitter and hasty day. They saw and were surprised. Their doubts only grew. The investigation was published in L’Express.
Among Charles Enderlin’s and France 2’s most outspoken critics was Philippe Karsenty, a young and successful Jew, who set up a media criticism internet site (“Media-Ratings”). Karsenty claimed that Enderlin had lied and that he and the channel had to draw conclusions.
France 2 is not just another television station. It is a superpower. It is a flagship and establishment channel in one. The channel and Enderlin sued Karsenty for libel. Karsenty demanded one thing: Show the full film that was shot of the event. The court refused. Karsenty lost and was convicted of libel. He did not give up.
In the appeals court, Karsenty reiterated his demand. This time his demand was met. It was a turning point. The full film, to all those who have seen it, leaves no room for doubt. The verdict was handed down four weeks ago on May 22. It was determined that Karsenty is not guilty of libel. The verdict analyzes the item that was broadcast, the full film, the evidence, the contradictions. The conclusion is unequivocal. The plaintiffs, Enderlin and France 2, come out not well at all.
The verdict did not cause many reverberations. In France, there was scant mention. In Israel, the affair came up against the Olmert affair and the talks with Syria, so that the story received very little coverage. What could have been a great achievement for Israel was about to go out with nary a whisper. But this is not what happened.
Before we continue, it would be worthwhile to recall the Israeli side. Articles appeared in Israel that were critical of Karsenty. What does it matter who killed him, wrote Arad Nir on Ynet. Gideon Levy went further and wrote that it did not matter since it is known that Israel kills children. It is certainly known. There is an old hobby to this effect. Jews. Children. It is a matter of history. Even journalist and historian Tom Segev mocked the inquiry of German journalist Esther Shapiro, who prepared a report for German television. It was not really proper on her part to exonerate the IDF soldiers of blame for the killing. She is not serious.
A series of prominent Israeli journalists were recruited not only to enshrine the libel that it was Israeli soldiers who killed or murdered Al-Dura. They were against the very idea of an inquiry. After all, they are energetic journalists. They had vigorous conclusions. Why confuse them with facts?
Let us return to France. Just as the affair was due to expire, Enderlin’s supporters decided to organize a petition of support for him. True, Enderlin said that the full footage included harsh segments of Al-Dura dying and it became clear that this was a lie. True, the verdict is unequivocal regarding the lack of credibility of those who were involved in broadcasting the doubtful segment. True, that Enderlin himself was nowhere near the scene when the events took place. But Enderlin’s friends, or those who believe that their enlightened state finds expression in besmirching Israel, lined up alongside one of their own. After all, he belongs to ‘the vanguard.’
The initiative for the petition came from Le Nouvel Observateur, an important and prestigious weekly, founded by Jean Daniel. His daughter is Sarah Daniel, a journalist in her own right. We will return to her. Nobody among the signatories is familiar with the affair. But all of the signatories, without exception, are identified, to one degree or another, with the anti-Israeli line. Most, like Daniel and his daughter, are Jews. And this is strange because Daniel himself, as a leftist, has criticized the French media in the past for exaggerated hostility towards Israel. It is interesting when he will write the article against himself.
Among the signatories are Hubert Védrine, former French Foreign Minister, and Theo Klein, former president of CRIF, the French Jewish umbrella organization. The petitioners also succeeded in recruiting an Israeli supporting player, who is only a millimeter away from comparing Israel to the Nazis. He is Avraham Burg, the former Speaker of the Knesset.
What is strange is that the petition is not only a defense of Enderlin’s impugned integrity. The petition, in a precise manner, supports the first version, on Israel’s guilt: “Seven years. For seven years a despicable campaign of hate has been trying to stain the professional honor of Charles Enderlin. For seven years, there have been those who have tried to present as ‘fabricated’ and as a ‘staged scene’ his report that shows how a twelve-year-old boy was killed by shots fired from an Israeli position.” Yes, that is their one-sided conclusion despite the court’s verdict. Like the anti-Dreyfusards, who also stubbornly clung to the first version.
The signatories are correct about one thing. For seven years, in their words, “A despicable campaign of hate has been conducted”. But the campaign has been waged against Israel, not against Enderlin. The many and the prominent were on Enderlin’s side. The few and the negligible came out against him. The French system of justice, after entering into details, after viewing the entire footage, after having heard expert testimony, after uncovering the lies, arrived at a sound verdict. It was a victory of David vs. Goliath. One stubborn, unknown young man forced the large network and the celebrity journalist to reveal the truth. The libel was refuted. The verdict leaves no room for doubts.
So how exactly did the signatories reach the conclusion, which has already been refuted in court? As usual, hostility against Israel forced the hand. It is possible to assume that none of the signatories were well versed in the details. But they all share one thing in common: They all belong to the same loathsome and fashionable anti-Zionist stream, in France as well as in Israel. Not all are on the same level of hostility. But they are all in the same direction.
Among the signatories, as we have mentioned, another name pops up, unknown to most Israelis: The journalist Sarah Daniel. In November 2001, this same Sarah Daniel wrote about Muslim girls murdered for reasons of family honor. Except that she added one paragraph: “Palestinian women raped by Israeli soldiers are systematically murdered by their own families. The rape, in practice, is a war crime, because the Israeli soldiers act in full awareness of the consequence of their deed”.
From where did Daniel take this fabrication? That is it. From nowhere. In fact, this is another libel disseminated in very marginal circles. And where was it published? In Le Nouvel Observateur, the journal of her father, Jean Daniel. The same paper and the same people who just sponsored the petition for Enderlin.
The petition took flight. In the last two weeks, it has become the focus of conflict between opposing camps in France. The defensive text of the signatories, against journalists in service of the truth, recalls the text of the anti-Dreyfusards, against officers working in the service of the state. One must not criticize them. The truth is theirs. Harming them is harming the holiest of holies. Then they were anti-Semites. Today they are anti-Israelis.
In the wake of the petition, a courageous and important verdict, that almost foundered in deep water, received a new lease on life. The debate on the petition put the Al-Dura affair back on center stage, in France, not in Israel. The historian, Professor Richard Landes from Boston, who followed the affair and even testified himself, wrote a comprehensive and very un-complimentary article about the signatories. Landes is the one who coined the phrase “Pallywood”, about the media of Arab and Palestinian propaganda. He also investigated the Al-Dura affair in depth. He came to Karsenty’s side.
The argument also spread to France’s leading newspapers. Professor Eli Bar-Navi, former [Israeli] Ambassador to France, wrote a scathing article against the signatories. “Since Deir Yassin,” he wrote “there has not been an affair which has caused so much damage to Israel.” Afterwards, additional articles appeared, most in the same vein. An editorial appeared in Le Figaro this week asking the signatories whether media personnel are beyond criticism. Also the big guns, like philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, expressed serious doubts about the petition, and the CRIF has already announced that it has joined the appeal for a commission of inquiry into the entire affair.
Enderlin’s supporters are trying to paint him as the new Dreyfus. Poor guy. It is a little hard for him on Devil’s Island. He made a nice little career for himself out of the Muhammad Al-Dura story. Now the achievement has become a stain. Enderlin is not an Israel-hater. He is no different than most of the foreign journalists in Israel, and he is even an Israeli citizen. He is part of the herd. A herd which is also well-represented in the Israeli media.
And where is Israel? It does not exist. It is the Dreyfus in this affair, but a strange Dreyfus. A Dreyfus who has had a libel stuck to it, but who remains nonchalant. Others fight for it. Official Israel has never bothered to thank Karsenty, or others who have fought to dispel the libel. Regarding assistance, there is nothing to even discuss; on the contrary. Unofficial Israel was on Enderlin’s side. Most of the articles, mind you, were against Karsenty and for Enderlin.
Justice came to light, in France, not in Israel. This is not by chance. If the trial had been held in Israel, there is concern, only concern, that the result would have been different. Freedom of speech is indeed a supreme value but on one condition: That it is found in the hands of very specific people. But that is the subject of a different article.