Monday 9 February 2009

Anti-Semitism returns to remind France of darker days

"Foreign journalists are often charged with anti-French prejudice when they touch the dangerous groud of anti-Semitism."

"France prides itself on its big Jewish community. It has a strong law against anti-Semitic speech, and recent synagogue vandalism has been been put down mainly to anger in the big Muslim community over Israeli government policies.

But an old and sinister hostility towards Jews has also recently bubbled up to the surface, serving as a reminder of ugly periods in France's past. The latest instance is a vitriolic new book that uses 1930s style innuendo to blacken Bernard Kouchner, the Foreign Minister. (...)

The book on Dr Kouchner, the ageing rock star of President Sarkozy's cabinet, is particularly revealing because there is no link with the Arab-Israeli conflict and because some of the chattering classes are defending the offensive tones of Pierre Péan, its author.

"The World According to K" reports on consulting work that Dr Kouchner, a humanitarian campaigner, carried out for African dictators. Péan paints him as a money-mad outsider whose main motivation springs from his Jewish origins. The Foreign Minister loathes France and has "sold off" French interests to the United States [the book cover is quite explicit], he writes. Dr Kouchner is driven by "hatred for the values of the French Revolution, of the wartime Resistance, of a national independence that is detested in the name of an Anglo-Saxon cosmopolitanism."

That kind of language was used against supposed Jewish enemies of France in the Dreyfus affair of the late 1890s and in the 1930s and 40s. As was the case elsewhere in Europe, Jews were depicted as aliens who worked against the interest of the nation. Even Mr Le Pen would think twice before using the old anti-Semitic codeword "cosmopolitan".

Dr Kouchner has damned the book as sickening and redolent of the 1930s and President Sarkozy - himself the target of some anti-Semitism due to his Jewish ancestry - has stood by him. Some media have attacked Péan's language. Le Monde called it a loathsome cocktail from the old far right.

But the book has not been widely discredited, and Dr Kouchner has been damaged. Péan is denying that he wrote anything anti-Semitic and he is being backed by sections of the press - and by many in the blogosphere. Le Journal du Dimanche, the main Sunday paper, said that he was not anti-Semitic but that the targets of his investigative books often cried anti-semitism "as a pretext".

Foreign journalists are often charged with anti-French prejudice when they touch the dangerous groud of anti-Semitism. So I shall leave the conclusion to Jean-Michel Aphatie, the toughest political interviewer on French radio. "It takes a lot of bad faith to continue to defend the indefensible book of Pierre Péan," he said."

Editorial by Charles Brenner in The Times

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