Philippe Karsenty has been threatening to write a piece about the behavior of the American Jewish Committee in the al Durah affair for years now. He’s finally done it. It lays out a classic dilemma between the confrontational and the accommodational approach to dealing with the problems of anti-semitism in the current scene.
This critique is echoed both in its particular target of the AJC, as well as the more general problem of the American Jewish leadership (a fortiori, Jewish leadership in other countries).
Mar 30, 2009 20:24 | Updated Mar 30, 2009 23:22
The American Jewish Committee deserves better leadership
By PHILIPPE KARSENTY
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If ever an issue begged for the intervention of a Jewish organization of international stature, it was the Mohamed al Dura affair. This notorious blood libel accused Israeli soldiers of shooting to death an Arab boy in Gaza on September 30, 2000. Though the event was actually a staged hoax, it was broadcast the same day on French public television station, France 2. Mohamed al Dura became an icon for all Muslim children. The story triggered rioting, terrorism and mayhem throughout the Muslim world; unleashed the Second Intifada; was the pretext for Daniel Pearl’s beheading, and was referenced in Osama bin Laden’s recruitment tapes prior to 9/11.
For seven years I worked to expose that hoax, and was sued for my effort.
The American Jewish Committee is one of the world’s most active Jewish institutions. It would have been entirely consistent with its mission to have stepped forward to aid me in my efforts to counter a libel that dishonored every Jew.
But under David Harris as executive director, only silence and obstruction were forthcoming.
Harris is renowned for his diplomatic skills, his warm friendship with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and his contacts at the highest levels of other European governments. Some have complained to him that his representative in France, Valerie Hoffenberg, never once objected to France 2′s hoax or supported my efforts to expose it. In fact, Hoffenberg was waging a behind-the scenes counter-offensive to cover-up the al Dura lie by blocking my access to some French officials, lobbying Jewish leaders against me, and claiming that the phony news report was authentic. Harris’ response was always polite and reassuring: “I will look into it,” he promised.
Yet nothing ever changed. It finally became clear that Hoffenberg was not acting on her own initiative, but faithfully adhering to AJC policy. Because of Hoffenberg’s activities, AJC France was actually my most destructive foe.
That would be a significant exaggeration. Enderlin and France2 were Karsenty’s most destructive foes. I don’t think it helps to exaggerate.
Nonetheless, in May of last year I was vindicated in a French court.
DAVID HARRIS’ antipathy to exposing the al Dura hoax is entirely consistent with his advice to the Obama administration (as well as other foreign governments) to participate in the planning of the Jew-hating stimulus package known as Durban II – against the wishes of the State of Israel. Now he is viciously attacking three of Israel’s best defenders – Caroline Glick, Melanie Phillips and Anne Bayefsky – for advocating an immediate and unequivocal boycott.
Harris’ claims that he deserves the credit for the current US disengagement from Durban II or improvements in its draft declaration – after undermining boycott efforts repeatedly – are more examples of the same practice I witnessed in the al Dura context: AJC’s mastery of the double game.
When the French Court of Appeals ruled in my favor, the AJC immediately issued a statement in praise of French justice. But that statement was only for its US audience. When asked to comment in French, the AJC representative in France refused, afraid it would appear as criticism of the French government which owns and controls the French public TV station that broadcast the al Dura hoax.
On December 2006, the AJC published an excellent report called “Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism” by Alvin Rosenfeld. AJC received requests that it be translated into German.
Harris wrote to his Berlin bureau chief, Deidre Berger: “I believe there would be a mini-firestorm in Germany if this [the Rosenfeld report] appeared and, therefore, do far more damage than good to our image and reputation in a key country.”
In other words Germany is a “key country” and Harris had important relationships to protect.
I’M NOT ALONE in my concerns about Harris’ European involvement.
The following is an unsolicited note from a prominent German Jew that came to me in November 2008 and confirmed my perception of Harris’ “policies”:
“While you experienced problems with AJC Paris, AJC Berlin has been making problems in Germany. This is no coincidence. The explanation is that this AJC policy is supported by David Harris. AJC wants to sit in the first row among the Jewish organizations when it comes to contacts with European governments. For this reason they try to get along well with the establishments in the various countries…
“It is thus working against, and even sabotaging, other Jewish and non-Jewish NGOs that are more serious about combating anti-Semitism and supporting Israel. In short, AJC is practicing appeasement toward the European governments and elites. That establishment, for its part, appreciates AJC giving them the kosher stamp of approval. AJC is thus working against Jewish interests in Europe.”
Worldwide, Jew-hatred is skyrocketing and Israel’s enemies have never been as united as they are now. The UN’s Durban II is a forum intended to confer official legitimacy on that hatred and unity – no less than the fiction of Mohamed al Dura, the UN’s poster child for Israeli atrocities. Not surprisingly, the painful but phony image of the “dead” Al Dura boy adorned the walls of the places that hosted Durban I.
AJC attracts donors by claiming to protect Jewish interests, but in reality, under Harris’ leadership, its actions provide cover for our enemies.
The writer is a French media critic.
My personal experience in the al Durah Affair was that, in addition to going to major news outlets (ABC, WGBH, Boston Globe, Ha-aretz, Jerusalem Report), and media watch groups (CAMERA, PMW, MEMRI), I also went to major Jewish organizations (AJCommittee, ADL, CPMAJO, TIP, AIPAC, AJCongress, Israeli government, IDF), thinking they’d be helpful.
What I found was a world paralyzed by fear of being labeled “conspiracy nuts,” and basically unwilling to help. (I should mention that one of the AJC’s major donors helped me in the earliest stages, but that was not through the AJC. Other figures in the ADL and the Israeli consulate helped me surreptitiously. Only B’nai Brith International did anything public.) Harris, the first person I went to, was and remains, evasive and unresponsive. I have never presented the material on al Durah and Pallywood to any of their annual meetings.
When I presented the case to the New England board of the AJC, to see if they would back a campaign to bring this to the attention of the public, one of the old-timers in the group came up to me after it was voted down handsomely, patted me on the shoulder condescendingly, and said: “You know, we needed people like you in the 1930s, but now… you’re just dangerous.”
My general impression of the current Jewish leadership is that they were largely formed in 1990s when the positive-sum rules of civil society offered the paradigm for action: let’s help the civil and human rights of others and, if it ever comes to it, when we need their help, they’ll help us. When the sh*t hit the fan in 2000 with al Durah and the wave of anti-Semitism, the model failed miserably — all those liberal organizations the Jewish organizations has partnered with either fell silent or went on the offensive against Israel, especially the liberal Protestant groups.
And the Jewish leaders did not know what to do. So they redoubled their efforts to be nice, not to offend. As the joke runs about two Jews in line for the showers at Auschwitz, one of them sneezes and the other says, “Hush Bernie, you’ll only make it worse for us.” Or, as a friend of mine who’s on the board of B’tselem said, “I don’t have any other moves.”
For those of us, like me, Karsenty, and others, who were not mobilized before 2000, and who took on the al Durah affair, it was a disorienting problem. As the judge said to Karsenty during the trial: “If the Israeli army, which is the target of these accusations, doesn’t have anything to say in their own defense, why should we take you seriously?”
The initial comments to Karsenty’s article are almost unanimously supportive of his confrontational approach to the AJC. (I’m struck by the number of complaints about arrogance.)
I was hoping that after Karsenty won, there’d be a shift, a reconsideration, in which some understanding emerged between activists and large Jewish organizations with a reputation to protect. I still think that has to happen. In fact the influence organizations like the AJC and ADL have acquired are important. Too bad they take no advice and too few risks.