The problem with France

September 03, 2003

CONTENTS

1. Is France a "shitty little country"?
2. New French ambassador to Tel Aviv insults Israel. Follows French ambassador to London calling Israel a "shitty little country"
3. French government: "No proof that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are terror groups"
4. French consulate in east Jerusalem posts student poems celebrating the "pure blood of the martyrs"
5. Last year one in five French voters - that is, 5.8 million people - gave their ballot to a Holocaust denier
6. Continuing attacks on Jewish schools and synagogues in Greater Paris this summer
7. The local Nanterre municipality decides to send a stone from Auschwitz, impregnated with the ashes of Jewish Holocaust victims, to a memorial for the "massacre" (that never happened) in Jenin
8. A note about Woody Allen's remarks at the Venice Festival



[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach four stories from recent days relating to France, with summaries first.

1. "France's guilt" (The London Daily Telegraph, editorial opinion, September 1, 2003): "There can be few more inauspicious starts to an embassy abroad than that of Gerard Araud, the incoming French envoy to Israel. M. Araud is reported as telling two colleagues that the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is a "lout" Aug. 25, 2003 and that the Israelis are "paranoid" Aug. 25, 2003. This follows the description of Israel as a "shitty little country" by Daniel Bernard, the former French ambassador to London. It is a measure of how deep-rooted these attitudes are that M Araud had been viewed as one of France's more pro-Israel officials... it is hard to imagine the incoming French ambassador to Damascus dismissing Bashar Assad of Syria, the head of totalitarian state, in the same fashion. French politicians who deviate from this consensus are rapidly brought into line [by the rest of the French foreign ministry], as exemplified by the lack of support which prime minister Lionel Jospin received from French diplomats when he described Hizbollah as a terrorist organisation in February 2000."

2. "French ambassador calls Israel 'paranoid' and Sharon 'a lout'" (Daily Telegraph news report, September 1, 2003). "France's new ambassador to Israel caused a diplomatic row with his hosts yesterday after he was reported to have described the Jewish state as "paranoid" and called its prime minister, Ariel Sharon, "a lout". Limor Livnat, Israel's education minister, said the remarks attributed to Gerard Araud were "very grave". If true, she said, Israel should refuse to accept his letter of accreditation."

3. "France: No proof Hamas and Islamic Jihad are terror groups" (The Jerusalem Post, August 25, 2003). France has said it will object to any attempt to place Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the European Union's list of terror groups. The diplomatic advisor to President Chirac, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, told the Israeli ambassador to France, Nissim Zvilli, that there is no proof that these two organizations are terror groups. "If we find that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are indeed terror groups opposed to peace, we may have to change the EU's stand," said Gourdault-Montagne. "However, we mustn't limit ourselves to one, clear cut, position." Officials of the Israeli Foreign Ministry expressed outrage at the French position. "Such an attitude . legitimizes terrorism," they said. (TG adds: Hamas proudly claimed responsibility for the "heroic" terror attack on a bus full of women and children which left 21 dead in Jerusalem, just one week before the latest French pronouncement.)

4. "The pity of France" (Comment by Bret Stephens, the Jerusalem Post, August 28, 2003.) "This is an angry column, and perhaps in a year or two I will regret some its language. But I will also make an effort to recall that in the month it was written, Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad vied for the credit of murdering 21 Orthodox Jews, and France refused to cut off the sources of funding to either group. I will recall, too, that at the French Cultural Center in east Jerusalem, which is affiliated with the French Consulate, student poems celebrate the "pure blood of the martyrs," and these are posted for everyone to see.

"We are talking about a country that insists on its "exception," which is only true in the sense that it actually conforms to every caricature about it: vain, cowardly, conniving, intellectually superficial, self-deceiving, politically and socially corrupt, with low moral standards (except when it comes to standing in judgment over the rest of the world), fundamentally anti-American and pervasively anti-Semitic...

"But I understate... This is country where last year one in five voters - that is, 5.8 million people - gave their ballot to a Holocaust denier. This is a country where the Council of State recently ruled that Maurice Papon, the Vichy official who deported Jews to Auschwitz by the thousands before going on to bigger and better things in the Fifth Republic, just had his pension reinstated after serving a two-year jail sentence. This is a country that earlier this year united as one to oppose the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and cheers at every American setback. This is a country that seeks the leadership of a European Union whose rules it routinely flouts.

"... Yes, France is eternal: the nation of Napoleon III is the same as the nation of Henri Petain is the same as the nation of Jacques Chirac. Progress has not intervened. The mindset that brought France to its crises of the 1930s operates today. Fortunately for the rest of us, upon France's fate the world's no longer hinges. It has become a country that can be ignored, which no doubt is why it screams the loudest. No longer dangerous, it has become merely obnoxious."

5. Tom Gross adds: These articles may be seen in the context of the continuing anti-Jewish violence in France this summer, which include a series of attacks on schools and synagogues in the Greater Paris region (and which have received virtually no international press attention). For example, on July 10, five dozen French Arab and African youths attacked the rue de Flandres Jewish school in Paris's 19th Arrondissement with iron bars and other weapons, sending three teenagers to hospital. In late July, the Saint Denis synagogue was desecrated and "Death to the Jews" written on the Torah scrolls.

According to French Jewish leaders, both these incidents followed political events at the local town hall where anti-Semitic language was used in the context of discussing Israel. In June a seminar funded by the Saint Denis municipality reportedly "whipped up hatred against Jews". The seminar was attended by the mayor, and addressed by young French students who had recently returned from a municipally-funded tour to Jenin and Ramallah.

In another incident, a group of high school students from Nanterre returned from a trip to Auschwitz with a stone from the camp which they wished to place at the Drancy Memorial, the spot at which the French rounded up thousands of Jews to send them to their deaths. The local Nanterre town hall have instead decided to send a delegation to present this stone, impregnated with the ashes of Jewish Holocaust victims, to a memorial for the "massacre" (that never happened) in Jenin.

6. A note about Woody Allen. [Tom Gross writes:] On a more trivial level, in his latest film, which he has just been showing at the Venice Festival, Woody Allen plays a New York Jew who is full of paranoid fears about a second Holocaust. In case we don't get the point, Allen told interviewers that the paranoic, violent character was inspired by "certain problems to do with Israel".

Allen visited France to accept a film award last year at the height of antisemitic violence there, but he refused to attend the Jerusalem film festival the summer before the Intifada, when he was the winner of that year's Jerusalem Festival prize, nor did he make any positive reference to Israeli culture in his acceptance speech which was beamed by video.

Allen is, of course, not the only Jew to be "embarrassed" by a strong Israel - an Israel whose militarily strength, as one Arab commentator said last week, is "the only reason we haven't been able to inflict as much as pain on the Jews as the Germans did."

 



FULL ARTICLES

FRANCE'S GUILT

France's guilt
Opinion
The Daily Telegraph
September 1, 2003

There can be few more inauspicious starts to an embassy abroad than that of Gerard Araud, the incoming French envoy to Israel.

M. Araud is reported as telling two colleagues that the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is a "lout'' and that the Israelis are "paranoid".

The Quai d'Orsay has vigorously denied these comments, but there is no doubt that such attitudes are not uncommon in the French diplomatic corps - exemplified by the description of Israel as a "shitty little country" by Daniel Bernard, the former French ambassador to London.

It is a measure of how deep-rooted these attitudes are that M Araud had been viewed as one of France's more pro-Israel officials, after serving in the cabinet of the pro-Zionist former defence minister, François Léotard.

How are such attitudes to be explained? There is certainly much "clientitis", in the sense that there are many Arab countries and only one Jewish state. Indeed, France's ambassador to Israel during the first Gulf war, Alain Pierret, wrote a book describing how difficult it was to obtain a hearing for the Israeli case within his own government.

The size of France's burgeoning Muslim population plays a part, too. Consequently, it is hard to imagine the incoming French ambassador to Damascus dismissing Bashar Assad of Syria, the head of totalitarian state, in the same fashion.

And then there is the ideological component. Many Europeans suffer from post-colonial guilt, France's elite particularly so because of Algeria. It is not so much influenced by Marx or Jesus, but rather by Frantz Fanon, the apostle of decolonisation. His book The Wretched of the Earth has conditioned several generations into accepting the notion that the natives must liberate themselves from white oppression through violence.

French politicians who deviate from this consensus are rapidly brought into line, as exemplified by the lack of support which prime minister Lionel Jospin received from French diplomats when he described Hizbollah as a terrorist organisation in February 2000.

Indeed, one of the reasons for the abjectness of British policy towards Iran and Syria is the feeling that we, too, need to compete with France for the affections of what is called the "Muslim world".

 

FRENCH AMBASSADOR CALLS ISRAEL "PARANOID"

French ambassador calls Israel 'paranoid' and Sharon 'a lout'
By Ohad Gozani in Tel Aviv
Daily Telegraph, U.K.
September 1, 2003

France's new ambassador to Israel caused a diplomatic row with his hosts yesterday after he was reported to have described the Jewish state as "paranoid" and called its prime minister, Ariel Sharon, "a lout".

Limor Livnat, Israel's education minister, said the remarks attributed to Gerard Araud were "very grave". If true, she said, Israel should refuse to accept his letter of accreditation.

The row is reminiscent of comments by Daniel Bernard, the former French ambassador to London. He caused a storm in December 2001 after being heard at a dinner party speaking of "that shitty little country, Israel".

M Araud's comments appear to have been made in a similarly unguarded moment. Boaz Bissmuth, a correspondent for the mass circulation Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, reported hearing M Araud talk disparagingly about Israel in conversation with two other French diplomats during a recent cocktail party in Paris.

The newspaper said M Araud did not know an Israeli journalist was there. When Mr Bissmuth introduced himself, he said M Araud tried to dissuade him from reporting what he heard because it was a private occasion.

The reporter said he decided to publish them because they reflected a possible bias on the part of an envoy of "a key European Union member state".

According to the Yediot report, M Araud also tried to explain that he meant Israel "has become paranoid because of what it has gone through".

In a statement, the French foreign ministry spokesman, Hervé Ladsous, said: "Gerard Araud denies in the most formal way all of the comments attributed to him by an Israeli journalist with respect to the state of Israel and its prime minister".

 

FRANCE: NO PROOF HAMAS ARE A TERROR GROUP

France: No proof Hamas and Islamic Jihad are terror groups
The Jerusalem Post
August 25, 2003

France voices objections to placing Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the European Union's list of terror organizations, ynet [ynet is the online news service of Yediot Ahronot, Israel's best-selling newspaper -- TG] reported Monday.

Diplomatic advisor to President Chirac, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, is quoted to have said to the Israeli ambassador in France, Nissim Zvilli, that there is no proof that these two organizations are terror groups. "If we find that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are indeed terror groups opposed to peace, we may have to change the EU's stand," said Gourdault-Montagne. "However, we mustn't limit ourselves to one, clear cut, position."

Over the weekend, Zvilli met with Gourdault-Montagne, said to be Chirac right hand man, as part of Israeli lobbying efforts to include the two Palestinian organizations in the EU terror list. Some two months ago, the EU added the Al Aksa Martyrs' Brigades, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian and Izzadin al-Kassam - Hamas' military wing, to its list. This enables European countries to freeze these groups' assets, as well as impose other sanctions upon them.

France, which has consistently objected to placing Hizbullah on the European Union's list is also, according to Gourdault-Montagne, opposed to placing both Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the EU list, and believes Israel ought to deal with its terror threats through political, rather than military, channels.

Officials of the Israeli Foreign Ministry expressed outrage at the French position. "Such an attitude is one of criminal negligence. It refuses to assume responsibility over the war against and thus legitimizes terrorism." They added that the EU's statement, issued in response to last Tuesday's deadly terror attack, does not mention Hamas by name, limiting its condemnation obscurely to "groups which have taken themselves outside the rule of law".

Officials of the French Embassy in Israel have retorted by claiming the French position remains unchanged. The military wing of Hamas, they say, is and ought to be on The EU terror list.

Conversely, Israel is demanding that all Hamas wings be included in the list, claiming there is no real difference between them.

 

THE PITY OF FRANCE

The pity of France
By Bret Stephens
The Jerusalem Post
August 28, 2003

"I'll tell you a big secret, mon cher. Don't wait for the last judgment. It takes place every day." - Albert Camus in The Fall

Toward France, as toward a spiteful uncle felled by stroke and partially paralyzed, one can be of two minds: contemptuous, or pitying. What France is getting in its summer of discontent, it had coming. What France is learning about itself, the rest of us have long known. After 9-11, there were those in Europe who said, "There were good reasons for that." It's time to say the same about France.

This is an angry column, and perhaps in a year or two I will regret some its language. But I will also make an effort to recall that in the month it was written, Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad vied for the credit of murdering 21 Orthodox Jews, and France refused to cut off the sources of funding to either group. I will recall, too, that at the French Cultural Center in east Jerusalem, which is affiliated with the French Consulate, student poems celebrate the "pure blood of the martyrs," and these are posted for everyone to see.

So my sympathy for France is not great, which is why I review some recent headlines with satisfaction. August 26: "French trade edge slips: central bank cites shorter workweek." August 21: "France joins 3 neighbors in an economic decline: Quarterly results worse than expected." July 11: "Events halted amid strikes in France." July 8: "France sinks deeper into state deficit."

Other headlines arouse different feelings. August 25: "Heat leaves Paris with many dead unclaimed." August 21: "Taking grim stock of heat's toll." August 19: "French health official quits, blaming politics."

Obviously there is no pleasure to be taken in the fact that between five and 10 thousand French men and women, most of them elderly, poor and living alone, succumbed this summer to the terrible heat. But here too one must also point a finger. Where were these people's children as they were suffocating in oven-like apartments? They were on holiday. And what happened when they got the awful news? "Informed of the death of relatives, some [vacationers] postponed funerals to avoid interrupting the Aug. 15 holiday weekend, and left the bodies in the refrigerated hall," went a report by John Tagliabue in The International Herald Tribune.

Such are the customs of France. We are talking about a country that insists on its "exception," which is only true in the sense that it actually conforms to every caricature about it: vain, cowardly, conniving, intellectually superficial, self-deceiving, politically and socially corrupt, with low moral standards (except when it comes to standing in judgment over the rest of the world), fundamentally anti-American and pervasively anti-Semitic.

But I understate.

This is country where last year one in five voters - that is, 5.8 million people - gave their ballot to a Holocaust denier. This is a country where the Council of State recently ruled that Maurice Papon, the Vichy official who deported Jews to Auschwitz by the thousands before going on to bigger and better things in the Fifth Republic, just had his pension reinstated after serving a two-year jail sentence. This is a country that earlier this year united as one to oppose the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and cheers at every American setback. This is a country that seeks the leadership of a European Union whose rules it routinely flouts. This is a country that aspires to an alliance with Russia, China and other semi- or full-fledged dictatorships so that it can stick it in the eye of Washington and its "simplistic" president. This is a country in which the president, the prime minister, the minister of health, and the director general of health all were on vacation when a public-health catastrophe occurred.

And, as I said earlier, this is a country that's getting what it asked for. Other places on earth are subject to the odd canicule, or heat wave. This summer, the mean temperature in Paris was about what it was in Chicago and Detroit. Nobody was dying from heat in those cities. What made for the French "exception" in this case wasn't mother nature. It was government policy and the national culture that supports it.

How do I mean? Let's see. For years, France and the rest of the EU, in self-righteous hysteria over global warming, imposed draconian energy taxes to limit consumption. It worked. Among other things, low-income households could not afford the luxury of climatisation - air conditioning - and made do with fans and open windows. So in order to avoid the theoretical possibility of a warmer world 100 years hence, people are dying in their bedrooms from the warmer climate now. "The summer health crisis has underlined a new schism in society - between those with air conditioning and those without," says Chantal de Singly, director of the Saint-Antoine hospital in Paris.

Then there's the 35-hour work week. This Socialist Party inspiration to distribute jobs more evenly has only increased labor costs. As a result, hospitals are chronically shortstaffed. A story in theWashington Post tells of conditions at the Retirement Home of La Muette in Paris, where five caretakers tended to 88 residents. "Even on normal days we're already running on a daily miracle," says La Muette's assistant director.

Let's also not forget the paid summer holiday, that most sacrosanct of French entitlements. Apparently it occurs to no one that people working in certain professions - hospital managers, for instance - have an ethical obligation to ensure their institutions are adequately staffed throughout the year. Instead, doctors and nurses, like everyone else, take off for the month, and whole wings of hospitals are shut down.

So we have stories like that of 70-year-old Monique Taupin. Feeling ill, she took herself to the hospital on a recent Saturday, which according to the IHT report was both understaffed and overcrowded. She went home that evening to her air-conditionless apartment, and was found dead by the police the next day. Only on Monday was her body removed for refrigeration, the delay owing to shortstaffing of city crews.

Keeping wholly within character, the French response to the crisis has been one part self-flagellation, and 10 parts whining. "It's not for Father State to take care of our elderly. It's up to us," wrote Renaud Girard in Le Figaro. But more typical was the view of Paul Campvert, president of the nursing homes association. "The government presents the problem as if the solution were private," he said. But the answer needs to be "collective, by means of taxes and contributions."

Pity, that. In their addiction to state subsidies - from unemployment insurance to pension plans to government make-work to corporate bailouts - the French are peerless. But the well's gone dry. Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is bravely attempting to pare spending. He will not succeed. Future national crises will ultimately push this government into doing what French governments always do: capitulate.

At some point, of course, successive capitulations will lead to a general collapse. France may be eternal, but it's not for nothing that the current constitutional arrangement is known as the Fifth Republic. Its problem is not political. Nor is it social or economic. Its problem is Frenchness itself. Other countries confronted by militant trade unions, for instance, have broken them. That's what Margaret Thatcher did in Britain. Other countries confronted by a broken welfare system have fixed it. That's what Bill Clinton did in the US. Other countries whose governments were heavily invested in their own economies have sold off state assets. That's what Ernesto Zedillo did in Mexico.

But not France. Trade unionism, indulgences for the indolent, a collusive relationship between industry and government - that is France. So is the endless summer vacance, the short working hours, the general attitude of entitlement. In France, as in places like Japan, what's lacking isn't economic or educational or technological resources. These they have in spades. What they lack is an ability to change. Yes, France is eternal: the nation of Napoleon III is the same as the nation of Henri Petain is the same as the nation of Jacques Chirac. Progress has not intervened. The mindset that brought France to its crises of the 1930s operates today.

Fortunately for the rest of us, upon France's fate the world's no longer hinges. It has become a country that can be ignored, which no doubt is why it screams the loudest. No longer dangerous, it has become merely obnoxious. The pity of France is, it deserves our pity.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.