“Truth is on the March”: an Interview with Philippe Karsenty on the Al Dura Hoax Trials
by Jerry Gordon (September 2013)
Philippe Karsenty The iconic image of the Al Dura hoax in Gaza
Many in France, Israel and the West consider Philippe Karsenty as “the Emile Zola of the 21st century” given his role unraveling the al-Dura film hoax and blood libel. Karsenty in France has been at the center of the al-Dura blood libel trials since 2004. These have involved accusations of defamation by France 2 TV news and Charles Enderlin, an Israel-based Jewish producer of the French TV news network. The al Dura affair began at the start of the Second Intifada on September 30, 2000 with a staged video of a Palestinian father Jamal al Dura sheltering his 12 year old son Mohammed allegedly dying from gunfire near the IDF Netzarim outpost in Gaza. It was used as agit-prop by Palestinians and even the late Usama bin Laden to accuse Israel and World Jewry as being child killers. Several investigators in Israel, France, Germany and the US after looking at the film and forensic evidence declared it a staged hoax. The saga of the al Dura France 2 trials is eerily similar to the official antisemitism of the fin de siècle Dreyfus Affair over a century earlier. Karsenty has won and lost four proceedings given the Kafkaesque vagaries of justice in the French court system. On May 20, an official Israeli Commission published a report confirming what Karsenty and other investigators had said; the al Dura video was a staged hoax, that neither the father Jamal nor the son Mohammed were injured and the IDF was not responsible. The latest appeal decision in June 2013 resulted in a verdict that fined Karsenty 8,000 Euros for defamation of France 2. Based on the January 2013 proceedings everyone thought Karsenty would be exonerated. He immediately filed an appeal to the French Supreme Court. See our interview with NER contributor Nidra Poller published in the July 2013, NER, The Al-Dura Blood Libel Affair.
Watch this Vimeo video of the original France2 footage broadcast of the Al- Dura video that created the hoax and the trials that involved a contest for the truth between Philippe Karsenty and France 2 producer Charles Enderlin.
Against this background we interviewed Mr. Karsenty while he was in the US and Canada for a series of presentations in August 2013.
Jerry Gordon: Philippe Karsenty thank you for consenting to this interview during your current speaking tour in both Canada and the US.
Philippe Karsenty: Thank you for inviting me
Gordon: What is the significance of your decade-long pursuit of justice in the al-Dura affair?
Karsenty: It has been a decade to try to open the eyes of the world. Most people didn't want to look at the evidence. They didn't want to look at the case and wanted to forget about it during the decade. I have been lecturing all over the world, fighting, lobbying, and going into courts. Finally, last May, May 2013, we received the official report of the State of Israel which supported what we had said for more than a decade. For us it was a huge turning point and a very important victory.
Gordon: What part did your business at Media-Ratings play in launching your investigation of the al-Dura hoax and its blood libel?
Karsenty: Media-Ratings started after the blood libel. My strategy was not to engage this fight because we wanted to gain some credibility with other topics and we were able to analyze media on many other topics. But then al-Dura came again in 2004 and we decided to go into battle. Media-Ratings were under fire and we have been consumed by al-Dura.
Gordon: What sparked your interest in investigating the al-Dura footage that lead to the launch of a decade of litigation in French courts?
Karsenty: I am not the one who discovered the blood libel. It was discovered by Nahum Shahaf at the beginning in 2000. Then some other people documented it. In 2002 I discovered the German documentary by Esther Schapira. When I saw her first documentary we said the bullets didn’t come from the Israeli side. Then after she produced the second documentary in which I appeared, she agreed that it was a hoax from the beginning. She agreed that the bullets couldn't come from the Israeli side.
Gordon: When did you first view the forensic footage of the al-Dura film and what conclusions did you draw from it?
Karsenty: The first evidence came from Nahum Shahaf and it was publicized through the efforts of Stephane Juffa and Gerard Huber, who was a good friend of mine. When I saw their work, I thought it was amazing. To me what was really surprising was that despite all of the evidence, all of the pieces of evidence they had of the staging, nobody wanted to listen to them. Nobody wanted to fight for the truth in this case. To me this was nonsense. So I decided that someone had to go into this battle and I thought it would be easier than it appeared at the end.
Gordon: What elements in your investigation of the al-Dura film lead to you concentrate on the roles of France 2 Producer Charles Enderlin and Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahma?
Karsenty: There are many pieces of evidence about the staging. Their story doesn’t have any support. They were pretending that the Israeli soldiers shot at the boy and the father for 45 minutes and they were at the distance of 80 meters. I would tell you fix on a target of two square meters, at 80 meters; it takes you one bullet, perhaps two bullets to hit the target. Now they were pretending that it took 45 minutes for Israeli sharpshooters to kill the boy and wound the father. This despite the 15 bullets they had collected. Yet you don't see a single drop of blood on their bodies, T-shirts or on the wall. This just didn't make sense. At the end we have the film of the boy who is supposedly dead and who raised his elbow at the cameraman and then he put down his elbow. So all of this doesn't make sense. It was all these pieces of evidence plus dozens more which really made us understand that it was a hoax.
Gordon: What have been the results of the four cases including the June 2013 Defamation Appeals Court decision?
Karsenty: The fact is that I didn't have standing to sue France 2 so I had to create a debate with them, to engage them and to provoke them. In 2004 I published a provocative article so that they would sue me for defamation. That is what they did. In September 2006 we had the trial. At the end of the trial the government advisor said Karsenty is right. He brought enough pieces of evidence of the staging. He shouldn't be found guilty of defamation. Despite all of that, a month later I was found guilty of defamation. I appealed. At the Court of Appeals they asked France 2 to bring their own raw footage. France 2 always claimed that they had 27 minutes of raw footage which was substantiating their claim but they never brought it. So the court said wait a minute. We are going to look at this footage so bring it. Two months later they brought 18 minutes so they had tampered with the evidence. At the end it was so ridiculous everybody was laughing in the court room. Then the trial was postponed for three more months just to have the pleadings. It took seven hours and I was found not guilty of defamation in May 2008. It was a great victory but France 2 refused to admit the hoax. All the French media outlets circled around to defend Charles Enderlin and France 2. I had to go through another trial because they went to the French Supreme Court to ask for an annulment of the verdict and the verdict was annulled four years later in 2012. The reason for the annulment was because they said the Judge of the Court of Appeals didn't have the right to ask for the raw footage to decide if you were right or wrong. So the verdict was annulled and we were sent back to the Court of Appeals on January 2013. The verdict was expected on April 13, then postponed to May 13 and then postponed to June 13. The trial went very well in January so with all of the postponements, everybody thought I was going to win because it was very difficult for them to find me guilty but they found me guilty in June 2013. Their argumentation was very interesting. They said well, you may be right on the fact that it was staged but when you published your article in 2004 you didn't have the pieces of evidence to say that it was a hoax. So I was found guilty of being too intuitive.
Gordon: What is the basis for your filing an appeal to a French Supreme Court this past July and when might that case be heard?
Karsenty: I have decided to file this appeal to the French Supreme Court despite the fact that I said before that I will not go there. Why? Because you know I thought that it's not the right battlefield, the French Court of Justice, because it is twisted. I must tell you that the Court of Appeals decision in June 2013 showed that we are not in a real democracy. However, I said we are going to prove that they were not in another legal system. We will try to go and see at the Supreme Court and see if they really a part of a country. A country which is still fair or if everything is completely too twisted.
Gordon: Why did it take thirteen years for Israel to produce an official report on the al-Dura affair?
Karsenty: That’s a good question. I would tell you first, ask the Israelis. Why don't you ask them? I mean, you have their phone number; you have their emails, ask them. But, the good reason I would say is that in 2000, when this happened, instead of understanding that they were facing a real war in the media, the State of Israel never understood. It has taken them a long time to understand, that there was another battlefield. I used to have this image that Israel had to fight three kinds of wars. The first kinds of war were the regular wars like the Six Day War, Yom Kippur or the Lebanon war. These were wars that Israel won brilliantly. Then there was the second kind of war. The second kind of war was terrorism. The Arabs decided to try to destroy the State of Israel through terrorism and this worked at the beginning. The State of Israel was completely unable to fight back, unable to destroy these terror cells, but finally they won. Then there is a third kind of war and Israel is actually losing this war. The third kind of war, which is designed to destroy the State of Israel, is the media war. Because once Israel loses the media war they have to stop their battle on the ground and then they lose that at the United Nations and its game over. Then they lose ground. That is exactly what they've been doing for the past fifteen years. This is the third kind of war which they are starting to understand. Because I've been working with them for so many years now I can tell you that they are babies in this kind of war while the Arabs are very concerned adults.
Gordon: Tell us about the forensics expert that had the early scientific evidence on the al-Dura hoax.
Karsenty: We are talking about Nahum Shahaf. Nahum Shahaf is a brilliant guy. Charles Enderlin who really tried to demonize him. It's exactly the same you know; Nahum Shahaf is a Jew. Israelis have always been on the receiving end of character assassinations. Israel is guilty because it is Israel and Nahum Shahaf was wrong because he is Nahum Shahaf. When I came to the courts I said I am sorry but how can you explain to me that after fifteen bullets they don't have a single drop of blood. Fifteen high velocity bullets, but Nahum Shahaf is not a reliable source. I said it doesn't make sense. You can't pretend he's not reliable. I am telling you he is reliable and 15 high velocity bullets, you would see blood everywhere. Nahum Shahaf has really been under attack. He's a good guy. It's been very difficult to work with him but, I would say he is a visionary. He was a pioneer.
Gordon: How significant were the contributions of Stephane Juffa, the late Gerard Huber, Boston University Professor Richard Landes, Nidra Poller and German T.V. News Journalist Esther Schapira?
Karsenty: Stephane Juffa and Gerard Huber have been very important in this case just after Nahum Shahaf. Gerard Huber wrote an interesting book in 2003, and Stephane Juffa did a great job before raising the Al-Dura story. He has been very active and very useful. Richard Landes did a good job confirming some pieces of evidence. However, I must tell you something that occurred in 2006. I asked him to testify at my trial at the Court of Justice in Paris. He was asked by the Judge, do you believe it is a hoax and he refused to say it's a hoax. That is very important and was used against me in the Court of Justice. Even in the verdict in 2013 the Judges in their written argumentation when Richard Landes was asked that either it is a hoax or not he refused to say it's a hoax. So I think it's very important to understand that when we published in 2004, and even more in 2006 lots of people who are now arguing it's a hoax. Nidra Poller did a great job. I mean she's been very active in recording all of the stories and understanding the battle, the real battle behind it. We have another person who is Veronique Chemla who has been doing a great job attending all of the trials. Esther Schapira is a very different story for me. Esther Schapira is the person who really brought me into the story. Because in 2002 when she issued her first documentary that was really the trigger for me. I know I had nothing to do with this. Then afterward we cooperated together. She has been fantastic. She testified in my trial in 2013 about all of the evidence she found. But the French Court of Justice was not interested in listening to her. Her name doesn't even appear in the verdict. They really tried to avoid her and the second documentary she did in 2009 was right.
Gordon: Why have France 2, French officials and the French Association of Journalists taken up the defense of Charles Enderlin in spite of the overwhelming evidence exposing this hoax?
Karsenty: Because they don't care about the facts. They have a faith. Their faith is that the State of Israel is guilty of killing children. They also have a political objective which is to make the State of Israel guilty. Anytime I'm in front of someone who has a decent brain and who is open-minded when I show him the pieces of evidence he agrees and says of course it's a hoax. There is no question. But I must tell you most of them are kind of a mafia defending their own French establishment which is becoming more and more hostile to Israel.
Gordon: How broad has been the support from French Jewish organizations like the CRIF and others in your pursuit of litigation against France2?
Karsenty: At the beginning, no Jewish organization was supportive of me. All of them were against me. Some of them were very vocal and some of them were just ignoring the story. Why? Because there were two ambassadors of Israel in France. One was Nissim Zvili and the second one was Daniel Shek. Both of them were friends of Charles Enderlin and they were defending him against me. Even when I was arguing and trying to get the truth out when people came to the Israeli Embassy in Paris they were getting the message don’t support Karsenty, we are not supporting it. Then the new President of the CRIF was elected in 2007. His name is Richard Prasquier and he came into this battle with me. He has been very courageous putting it in the media and really fighting for the truth. The main problem is that he never had, I would say, the possibility or the will to go to Sarkozy at that time and say look Mr. President, we really need to have this case solved. He was I would say too cautious to try to really expose the truth. Some other French Jewish organizations were active and helping me to convey the truth. Some of them were really opposing me.
Gordon: How have the al-Dura trials impacted you as Deputy Mayor of the City of Neuilly?
Karsenty: Neuilly is the city where Nicolas Sarkozy was the Mayor. I had been elected in 2008 so the case was before and after. I must tell you people have been voting for me most probably because of this fight so it didn't affect me. Sometimes some of my colleagues may not be happy about seeing my name in the media in such a controversial issue, but I don't care. To me, what is important is fighting for the truth.
Gordon: What is your assessment of Valerie Hoffenberg, vis-a-vis French Policy in Israel and the al-Dura trials?
Karsenty: Valerie Hoffenberg was the French representative of the American Jewish Committee in Paris and she had been against the revelation of the truth in the Al-Dura story. She had been doing that against me for years. For years she said that in order to climb the ladders of the French establishment she had to be on the other side. You say Karsenty is a nut case and we are the decent Jews. You know we are not confronting the system and I said, look, the system is becoming more and more anti-Semitic. We have to confront it so I would say she has been a modern collaborator of Jew hatred.
Gordon: What would have been the reactions of U.S. and Canadian groups to your presentations?
Karsenty: I have been very well accepted. I have been invited all over the continent in North America; Toronto, Montreal, London, Ontario, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, even here in Florida. I have been to lots of Universities and Jewish organizations. There was only one occasion which was really problematic and it was because of the influence of Valerie Hoffenberg. She was the French representative of the American Jewish Committee led by David Harris. David Harris was so happy to have access through her to the French establishment. However, he was not ready to confront them. I must say this is sad because I understand that the American Jewish Committee is an influential and important American organization. I really regret despite all of their qualities that they have not been on the right side of this fight.
Gordon: Given the rise of Islamization in France do you see a future for French Jewry there?
Karsenty: I don't see a very good future for the French people themselves. Jews have been used to traveling for generations. My parents were born in North Africa. My grandparents were born in other countries of North Africa and you know we have been moving for centuries. France is becoming a declining country not only for the Jews but overall. I mean the country is going to pieces. There is no more civil society. There are places where the police cannot go. There are places where there is no state of law at all. The police and firemen cannot go into some areas because it's dangerous for them. So in France, nobody respects the law anymore, I think it is becoming very difficult for the French people. For its Jews I think it looks more and more short term.
Gordon: German Journalist Esther Schapira thought that you may have paid too high a price seeking justice in exposing the al-Dura hoax. What would be your reply to her and others who support your cause?
Karsenty: I agree. I have been fighting for more than a decade for the truth when the people don't want to see the truth. Someone told me yesterday something very interesting. You don't wake up someone who pretends to be asleep. And this is the problem with al-Dura. They pretend to believe that this is a real story. It's no use to show them that it's a hoax because they probably know it's a hoax but they pretend. Maybe I missed something in our society where lies are more important than anything else. There are useful lies and I must say that I live in a country where there is no competition between the media outlets so there is no fighting. In America I would say if Fox News staged something or if CNN staged something you would have a competition between these two media outlets and others would reveal any wrongdoing. This never happens in France because all of them are on the same side.
Gordon: Philippe Karsenty I want to thank you for this timely and important interview and continued success on your current tour of North America.
Karsenty: Thank you very much.
Watch this Vimeo video of a presentation by Philippe Karsenty given on August 18, 2013 and sponsored by the Children of Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust of Los Angeles.
Watch these al Durah Project Vimeo videos of the raw footage versus the France 2 broadcast
The al Dura raw footage, here.
Also see Jerry Gordon's collection of interviews, The West Speaks.
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