Politics & Policy

Holy Scolders

French journalists miss the story in their own backyard.

–Two days after the murderous attack against the Number 14 bus in Jerusalem, and smack in the middle of the “off the wall” deliberations of the International Court at the Hague, France’s public channel France 2 broadcast one of those investigative panoramas of Israel that we watch with understandable trepidation. It is all so familiar, and still it hurts–as the same nerve is hit, and the same insidious message is transmitted to an all-too-credulous audience. The February 24 episode of Œil sur la Planète opened with France’s favorite talking heads, Israel’s soul-searching, breast-baring holy scolders, always on call when it comes to scourging their country and countrymen. It’s not as if their message brings any new tidings; we’ve heard it all before. Avrum Burg can get space in Le Monde at the drop of an eyelid, the refuzniks are invited to speak to hot-headed Muslim kids in the banlieues, any Israeli who has a word to say against the government of Ariel Sharon, the doings of Tsahal, the awful stubbornness of the “colonists,” the dangers of theocracy, or the shabby treatment of Arab Israelis is welcomed by the French media.

#ad#There is nothing inherently evil in soul-searching, even in wartime; it may well be motivated by the highest Jewish values and the difficulties of respecting them in a beleaguered Jewish state. There is always room for honest debate about ethical values within a community that, at least theoretically, respects them. But why, if they are so intelligent and so ethical, do the holy scolders line up to confess our sins to a tacky French journalist cum curé?

Do they have any idea how ridiculous they look as they pour out the secrets of their true Zionist hearts to Thierry Thuiller, who drools as he gathers the salt to rub into Israeli wounds? Egged on and flattered, monsieur the-Conscience-of-Israel accuses the army of atrocities, the “colonists” of indecent settlement, the government of failure to comply with peace plans, the ultra-orthodox of oppression and draft dodging, and Israelis in general of deep-seated imperfections and indelible stains.

Who exactly are you talking to, monsieur la-Conscience-de-Ton-Peuple? Beyond the nervous little journalist hopping around like Jiminy Cricket lies a French audience that is kept on intravenous anti-Zionism. Do they live by the higher values you profess and demand? Do they expect their compatriots to be kind to widows and orphans–if the cost of kindness comes out of their own pockets? At the price of their own lives?

You are speaking to France, a wannabe world power jockeying for paternalistic leverage in the European Union and drugged on the fantasy of being the leader of the Arab world. You are tour guides for a nation that looks down its nose at yeshiva “bochers” rocking back and forth while their fathers and mothers are fruitful and multiplying; a nation that cuddles up to a poor Cohen who can’t marry his divorced beloved because of the stupid rules of the nasty rabbis; a nation that scowls at the armored cars taking Jews in and out of their shamefully neat and pretty neighborhoods provocatively nestled in Palestinian lands.

Israel is its own worst enemy, because the real enemy is kept out of the picture. So Daniel Bensimon can tut-tut about all the money spent on the military that could be better used elsewhere. He sounds so reasonable–and it’s not just because he’s wearing a turtleneck sweater. Compared to the modern offices of Haaretz, the Judean hills look as old as Methuselah and the wild men who live there–the one who shows the reporter a little archeological site attesting to ancient Jewish presence, the other who refers to the biblical promise–are made to look like prehistoric atavisms. Even the good-looking young ladies and men dancing in a Tel Aviv nightclub on Friday night are turned into a reproach against the comical throwback dressed in black, blowing his horn to close a Jerusalem market before shabbat.

All of this might seem like slim fare hardly worth 15 minutes of indignation. But wait until you hear the punch line. The pearl in the oyster, the gold nugget buried in this take-a-look-at-this-and-that stroll: Israeli soldiers kill Palestinian kids for fun.

The sequence takes place near “the wall.” Which is, in reality, a fence, seen from a distance in the background. In the foreground, a formidable Tsahal-watcher named Yvonne Mansbach explains to Thierry Thuiller that some Palestinian kids were horsing around near the barrier. The soldiers said “we’re going to have a good time,” ran over to the fence and, without even firing a warning shot, killed three Palestinian kids. This is supposed to be happening in real time. Yvonne Mansbach makes a phone call. She says she reported the incident to the army spokesman, and he asked if the kids had done something to the fence, and she replied, “What does that have to do with it, is kicking the fence punishable by death?”

The army spokesman appears deaf to ethical entreaty. The French journalist hears the testimony and draws the logical conclusion: Israelis know this kind of thing is happening, they approve, and it doesn’t even get a line in a newspaper.

This is the France 2 that brought us the Mohamed Al-Dura “death” scene, the blood libel that kicked off these long years of murder and maiming of Israeli civilians. That day, September 30, 2000, at Netzarim junction, France 2 stringer Tala Abu Rahmé was in the right place at the right time. Thanks to his too-good-to-be-true scoop, the whole world was fed the Jews-are-child-killers story. The repercussions are global and enduring.

Riding on the credibility of the poster boy–a France 2/PA production–a jumpy little journalist can blithely claim that IDF soldiers just killed three Palestinian kids. He doesn’t even have to ask his cameraman to zoom in on the scene or run over and film the bleeding corpses before they are rushed off for a Hamas funeral.

Muslims can beat up Jews in French streets and schools, burn synagogues and kosher butcher shops, without stinging the French conscience. They provoke a shrug of the shoulders, a solemn official declaration–France is not an anti-Semitic country–and a low mumble: What can you expect, when they kill Palestinian children for fun! Palestinians can kill and maim Israelis by the thousands, and a blasé French public yawns and mumbles: What can you expect, they build a wall and then use it as an excuse to kill Palestinian children for fun!

I have a suggestion: Instead of explaining kashrut to a ham hock, the Israeli holy scolders should come over here and make a film about France, its ills and misdeeds, its failings and disappointments, its untroubled conscience that takes a handful of NGOs for G-d’s gift to the world, its Salafist mosques and anti-Semitic comics, its pacifism funded by Saddam’s oil money, its anti-Americanism fed by bitter jealousy, its Pravda press and defenseless borders…

But don’t expect the special report to be aired on French television. Holy scolders are not kosher if they turn their scorn on France.

Nidra Poller is a novelist living in Paris and translator, most recently, of Humanism of the Other.

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