Monday, March 01, 2004


In recent weeks, France has been particularly unlucky: some ugly characters have come to the fore to greet the public and hey have not made the greatest of ambassadors.

In addition to Mr. IsraHeil, or Dieudonné, there was our friend Franck "boum!" Moulet. On Thursday, Libération told us (misspelling "Rikers" yet again) that Franck lives with his younger sister, has barely any belongings and earns his living doing odd jobs (packaging, pizza, handing out flyers and two years in a university library in Marseilles). He also "cries easily and sometimes his tears have nothing to do with America and prison. But he doesn't want the help of a psychiatrist. His family regrets this."

Worst of all, however, was the reemergence of Pascal Boniface, who published an unusually stupid essay in last Saturday's Le Monde. In responding to an earlier essay by Francis Fukuyama — who had argued that France's Arab minority has an influence over French public policy — Boniface demonstrates why audacity is sometimes a minor virtue, writing:
It is amusing to see an American criticize a country on the pretext that its foreign policy is supposedly influenced by the electoral weight of certain communities. Isn't this one of the characteristics of American foreign policy?
The fact that Boniface is insinuating that Jews control the United States isn't the only cause for upset. Close readers will notice that he is once again stepping on the very same land-mine that forced his resignation from the Socialist Party in 2003. In an internal memo on campaign strategy to Socialist leader François Hollande (which was later leaked to the press), Boniface wrote:
I am struck by the number of young beurs [i.e. Arabs] and French Muslims of all ages who claim to be on the left but who, due to the situation in the Middle East, say they won't vote for Jospin in the presidential election. An attitude toward the Middle East question that is perceived as unfair and, of course, one they think is yet again at the expense of the Arabs, demonstrates to them that Arab/Muslim community is not considered, if not rejected by the Socialist family. The situation in the Middle East and the timidity of the Socialists in condemning Israeli oppression encourages the alienation of Muslims in France, for which no one, Jew, Muslim or Pagan, can be happy. It is doubtless better to lose an election than one's soul. But, by putting the Israeli government and the Palestinians on equal footing, we're risking the loss of both. Is support for Sharon worth losing 2002?
When this memo is mentioned publically, Boniface makes oblique efforts to deny he ever wrote it but his opponents simply trot out the direct citation above. In August of 2001, Boniface also published an essay in the pages of Le Monde entitled "Letter to an Israeli friend" that read, in part, "By permitting too much of the Israeli government's impunity, France's Jewish community could end up the loser in the medium term. The Arab and/or Muslim community is surely less well organized but it seeks to be a counterweight and will fast outweigh the Jewish one in numbers, if this isn't already the case."

For having essentially told French Jews that they'd better sever ties with Israel or risk alienation, Boniface came in for a bit of a drubbing. Then Israeli ambassador to France, Elie Barnavi shot back with his own essay:
I can't tell what revolted me more about the "Letter to an Israeli friend" (Le Monde, 4 August, 2001), by Pascal Boniface. The insincerity of the title, which infuriatingly reminded me a pamphlet once published by Ibrahim Souss [former PLO Paris representative and author of the pamphlet Letter to a Jewish friend] ? The saccharine and unctuous tone which fails to disguise an implacable hostility? The gulf between the tonality of this text and the brutal one he committed for internal consumption by his party? The content, rich in ideological insinuations but politically vacuous? It was all of the above, probably.
Boniface demurred for 22 days before responding and when he did, the essence of his reply was that he found "unacceptable such intellectual terrorism that consisted in accusing any person of anti-Semitism that dares criticize the Israeli government, an accusation which ought, incidentally, to apply also to Israeli pacifists and to those French Jews who share this point of view."

The title of this response, "Are we allowed to criticize Israel?" lent itself to a book that Boniface published in April of last year (ranked 4,526 on Amazon, even now). Yet soon after this, things got too hot for Boniface and he was made to walk the plank, after a "friendly" luncheon on July 18, 2002. An article appearing that day in Libération (available for free here) revealed that in a note to François Hollande (ya think M. Hollande is simply turning these notes over to the press?...) Boniface wrote that "communitarianism has returned in force to the Socialist Party" (note that it was good old Tariq Ramadan who sparked so much controversy by accusing France's Jewish philosophers of "communautarisme"...) and that certain "friends of Israel" were to blame for his demise, particularly former Finance minister Dominique Strauss-Khan, "When I'm being violently attacked by the Jewish far right, seeing DSK throw me to the wolves among a hostile crowd [...] and call me a 'wretch' is troubling," wrote Boniface. It was deputy mayor of Paris and friend to Lionel Jospin Pierre Schapira who was among the first to point out that "it's rather outrageous of him to criticize communitarianism when he's the one who brought out the idea with his note to Hollande."

No comments: