Tempest In A Trash Can


by Nidra Poller (Sept. 2008)

The Observer, Haaretz, and the International Tribune reported at length on the brouhaha over the dismissal of the snarling Charlie Hebdo cartoonist-columnist Siné, who claimed that president Sarkozy’s son Jean was converting to Judaism the better to marry his wealthy Jewish fiancée and get ahead in life. Editorial director Philippe Val, who admits he’d taken to publishing Siné without reading his material, asked the 80 year-old to apologize to the victims of the “antisemitic” slur. Siné replied in typical Charlie Hebdo speak that he’d rather snip off his family jewels.

In no time French media and blogs were ablaze with comments, criticism, petitions, manifestoes, cris de coeur, insults…everything but a duel. An international petition in favor of Siné’s right to take jabs at Jews has reportedly gathered more than fifteen thousand signatures, while a modest handful of high profile intellectuals, including Bernard Henri-Levy, Elie Weisel, and Laurent Joffrin (editorial director of Libération) are defending Philippe Val. The Charlie Hebdo controversy is not, as some would have us think, a frivolous quarrel hyped up to relieve the boredom of the summer doldrums; it is a demonstration of the perilous confusions of trendy “post-antisemitism.”

One could quibble forever over Siné’s July 2nd slur. Is it simply offensive, partially or entirely antisemitic, or routine Charlie Hebdo muck? Tacking the old-fashioned Jews-money-opportunism tail on Jean Sarkozy is comically off-target: the young man is Catholic. His great-grandfather, a Jewish immigrant from Salonika, did convert…to marry his French sweetheart. Then again, according to Nazi rules Jean’s blood is “tainted” with Judaism.

When 6 people were killed and 22 injured in the August 9 1982 attack against Goldenberg’s Restaurant, attributed to the Abu Nidal group, Siné declared: “I’m an antisemite, and I’m not afraid to admit it… I want every Jew to live in fear, unless he’s pro-Palestinian. Let them die.” This did not interrupt his career and there is no evidence of a change of heart in the intervening decades.

Whether Philippe Val’s decision to boot the cantankerous columnist was spurred by the 1940s style of his anti-Sarkozy gossip or a more general exasperation with the man’s poison pen, Val was exercising his editorial prerogatives; it was not an infringement on Siné’s free speech.

The real story is spelled out in the long winding threads of comments, massively favorable to Siné and unashamedly hostile to Jews. Claiming you can’t say anything about Jews without being clobbered, readers shoot off salvoes of contempt, hatred, or death wish for Jews and/or Israelis. Complaining that they can’t criticize Israel without being accused of antisemitism, they attack Jews for Israeli “crimes” against Palestinians. (Given that half the world’s Jews now live in Israel, we could call these folks demi-antisemites.)

What’s their gripe? The right to slander Jews– in any and all terms, from Biblical epithets to the latest Ahmadinejadism—is de facto granted in these times of guilt-free antisemitism-without-antisemites. But it is supposed to be risk-free! If Philippe Val, who presides over the mulch of scatological pornography that passes for satire in Charlie Hebdo, could discern antisemitism in the harmless remark of the venerable Siné, no one is safe anymore. Proof to the contrary leaps out of the pages of Charlie Hebdo in person on July 9th, just one week after Siné’s Jews-money-opportunism jingle. “Little Mohammed is still moving,” by assistant editorial director Charb, is as fresh, modern, and youthful as its author, born in 1967. 

The al Dura “news report,” produced and disseminated by state-owned France 2 TV, is the single most damaging accusation made against Jews since the rise of the Nazis. Israeli soldiers were accused of deliberately killing a Palestinian youth at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza strip on September 30, 2000. The incendiary report composed of a fleeting video (under one minute) filmed by Palestinian stringer Talal Abu Rahma and a voice-over commentary by Jerusalem correspondent Charles Enderlin, convinced viewers that Mohammed al Dura and his father Jamal were “targets of gunfire from the Israeli position.” “The boy is dead,” declared Enderlin, “and his father critically wounded.”

The mythical death of Mohamed al Dura triggered the “al Aqsa Intifada” and set off a worldwide blaze of anti-Jewish violence that has never really expired. Serious analysts have amassed convincing evidence that the news report was staged and the whole incident a crude fabrication. The alleged shooting does not appear in the video, the testimony of Jamal and the cameraman is full of holes, and the boy, who has been declared dead, moves, lifts his elbow, and glances at the camera. (This explains Charb’s snide title, “Little Mohammed is Still Moving.”) In an attempt to silence critics, France 2 initiated several defamation lawsuits in 2005. This spring, one of the convicted defendants, Philippe Karsenty, was acquitted in a landmark Appellate Court decision that reinforces the staged scene thesis. [see “A Hoax?” Wall Street Journal Europe, May 27 2008].

Sublimely ignoring the evidence, Charb begins with a rehash of the original al Dura myth. “Eight years ago France 2 broadcast images of a Palestinian child screaming in terror, caught in a cross fire between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers, in Gaza. His father tries to protect him. In vain. The child is fatally shot. The father is wounded. It was all filmed by France 2 Jerusalem correspondent Charles Enderlin’s cameraman. Enderlin affirms that the murderous gunfire came from the Israeli side. And, ever since, ‘pro-Israel propagandists’ have been dragging Enderlin through shit.”

Charb boasts of his ignorance about what really happened in Gaza that day but says that Palestinians who use the al Dura image to prove that the “Israeli occupation army” kills civilians are knuckleheads. If the images didn’t exist, he explains, the kid would have been added to the list of 5 to 800 nameless Palestinian children killed by Israelis. He claims the “Greater Israel fanatics” don’t bother to deny those fatalities because the cadavers aren’t displayed on TV [sic] when the Israelis bomb a building in Gaza. For Charb, the Palestinians are a sorry lot if they think the world needs the al Dura image to show that Israel is fighting an “illegitimate” war to deny their right to self-determination. It shouldn’t take an al Dura to mobilize freedom-loving people to defend basic Palestinian rights…like the right to go out to buy bread and come home alive [sic].

These people, says Charb, who quibble over a detail because they deny the essential truth, who turn poor Enderlin into a Palestinian agent and turn Zionism into colonialism, “these Thierry Meyssan [best-selling French 9/11 conspiracy author] look-alikes who never saw a Palestinian killed by Israeli gunfire in Palestine” have convinced the CRIF [Jewish umbrella organization] to ask Sarkozy to set up an investigating commission. What does this have to do with the CRIF, what does it have to do with French Jews, why doesn’t the UOIF [French Muslim Brotherhood association] demand its own investigating commission? How about an investigation of the Sabra and Shatila affair [sic]?  “Then these mature adults can scold the dimwitted banlieue Beurs for identifying with the Palestinians…  Communitarian cunts! Can’t they set a good example?”

The al Dura article–which appeared to the left of Siné’s last column– sparked no controversy, triggered no petitions, sent no philosophers rushing to the barricades. 

But Siné may have inspired the 63 year-old man—certainly not an antisemite—who scrawled “Sarkozys Jews Thieves” on the walls of several buildings near Jean Sarkozy’s home in Neuilly-sur-Seine the other night.

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