The New York Times finally covers the Le Monde verdict

June 30, 2005

* “No one denies now that there has been a rise in anti-Semitism tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” William Goldnadel, the head of Attorneys Without Borders, the group which filed the French court complaint against Le Monde

 

This dispatch was prepared on Monday, but I didn’t send it then because I had already sent two dispatches that day.

This is an update to three previous dispatches on this list:

* French court fines Le Monde journalists for “racist defamation” of Israel (May 30, 2005)
* J’Accuse: Anti-Semitism at Le Monde and beyond (June 3, 2005)
* Le Monde ‘J’accuse’ follow-up (June 10, 2005)


ONE MONTH LATE

[Note by Tom Gross]

One month late, the New York Times has finally mentioned the French court ruling which found Le Monde guilty of anti-Semitism for an article pretending to be merely an analysis of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. (I know from sources at the Times that one of the reasons they have finally run this story was due to pressure generated by my article in the Wall Street Journal Europe.)

Unsurprisingly, however, the New York Times seems to be disappointed with the ruling. New York Times correspondent Craig S. Smith says in the opening of his report that it “adds to a deficit of free speech in Europe,” and he despairs that “Europe is struggling to adjust the boundaries of reasonable debate at the worst possible time.”

By relegating the comments of William Goldnadel (the head of Attorneys Without Borders, the group that filed the complaint) to the end of the article and by listing the other cases he has brought against Le Monde, the New York Times appears to seek to downplay his achievement.

COULD THE NY TIMES LEARN A THING OR TWO FROM THE LE MONDE JUDGMENT?

In the National Review two years ago, I wrote a lengthy assessment of the New York Times’s own coverage of Israel. Although there was some improvement in the Times’s coverage after Steven Erlanger became Jerusalem correspondent, many of the points in my piece remain true today. It can read at www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-gross031403.asp.

The New York Times’s article on Le Monde omits much, and barely mentions the level of attacks Jews have experienced in France in recent years, nor the substantial increase in emigration from France by Jews that has followed these attacks.

The New York Times article also claims that the Le Monde article in question, “Israel-Palestine: The Cancer,” “was nothing remarkable to American readers accustomed to raucous, sometimes racist public debate.”

In my Wall Street Journal article I argued that because the media had so far ignored this case, it had failed to produce a “long overdue reassessment of Europe’s attitude toward Israel.” The New York Times also appears to be failing in that lesson.

I attach the New York Times article (followed by the article from the Wall Street Journal Europe, for subscribers who are new to this list).

-- Tom Gross



FULL ARTICLE

FREE SPEECH AND HATE SPEECH: FRENCH RULING ROILS THE WATERS

Free Speech and Hate Speech: French Ruling Roils the Waters
By Craig S. Smith
New York Times
June 27, 2005

www.nytimes.com/2005/06/27/international/europe/27france.html

According to William Goldnadel, the 4 euros he won in a recent court case here is a windfall for Jews in France. Others only see it adding to a deficit of free speech in Europe.

Three French intellectuals and the publisher of the nation’s premier newspaper, Le Monde, were ordered by a French court in May to pay 1 euro each to Attorneys Without Borders, which Mr. Goldnadel leads, for defaming Jews in an op-ed article three years ago. The article, the court found, equated Jews with the state of Israel, whose policies the authors sharply criticized.

The four men were also told to pay one euro each to an Israeli-French association, and Le Monde was ordered to publish a notice of the court’s decision in its pages in the coming months.

The case is one of many such complaints to land in European courts in recent years as a surge of emotional discourse regarding Muslims after the Sept. 11 attacks and Israel after the second Palestinian intifada bumps against post-Nazi laws intended to guard against the fascist hate-mongering of the 1930’s.

The far-right French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen has been taken to court on several occasions, accused of disparaging Muslims and discounting the Nazis’ wartime atrocities. In 2002, the French author Michel Houellebecq was acquitted of inciting racial hatred in a 2001 novel that called Islam “the stupidest religion.”

Most recently, an Italian judge ordered the journalist Oriana Fallaci to stand trial on charges that she defamed Islam in her 2004 book, “The Force of Reason.” She wrote in the book that Islam “sows hatred in the place of love and slavery in the place of freedom.”

Some here say that Europe is struggling to adjust the boundaries of reasonable debate at the worst possible time.

“The more insecure Europe is about its identity, the more dangerous it is to cross those boundaries,” said Dominique Mosi, an international relations specialist.

“Especially now, those boundaries are even more delicate because there is a danger of Europe falling prey to nationalistic and jingoistic reactions.”

Most European countries have laws restricting hate speech that, even if they predate the mid-20th century rise of Nazism, have been reinforced by the shared history of the Holocaust. Even Britain, which protects freedom of speech in a spirit closer to that of the United States, is considering a law against “incitement of religious hatred” to go with a law against incitement of racial hatred.

Many free-speech cases have been set off since Sept. 11 by criticism of Islam amid concerns about Europe’s growing conservative Muslim population. That does not mean that such laws curb speech uniformly across Europe. Enforcement varies according to the national mood, and penalties for infractions are usually low, leaving the field open to anyone willing to face the resulting opprobrium.

Theo van Gogh, for example, the Dutch filmmaker murdered in Amsterdam last Nov. 2 by an Islamist activist, was well known for his outrageous public comments about Muslims and Jews. One of his favorite epithets for conservative Muslims evoked bestiality with a goat, while in 1991 he wrote that “it smells like caramel today, they must be burning the diabetic Jews.” He was fined the equivalent of a few hundred dollars for that.

The case of the article published in Le Monde arose amid a wave of scorn for Israeli policies that swept Europe after the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in September 2000. The mood soon fueled a surge in anti-Semitism in France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe. “Death to Jews!” was shouted in Paris streets. Jewish children were attacked at schools; synagogues were burned. Emotions peaked during the Israeli Defense Force’s reoccupation of Palestinian areas from March to May 2002. Political cartoons across Europe equated Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with Hitler.

The article, published in June 2002, was nothing remarkable to American readers accustomed to raucous, sometimes racist public debate. But public criticism of racial or religious groups is forbidden in France, which is vigilant in policing public speech in pursuit of its vision of a homogenous, secular nation free of sectarian divisions.

The authors one of whom is Jewish condemned Mr. Sharon, accusing him of “oppressing and asphyxiating the Palestinian population.”

One of the passages cited by the court read, “One finds it hard to imagine that a nation of fugitives descended from the people which has been persecuted the longest in the history of humanity, having been subjected to the worst humiliations and the deepest contempt, would be capable of transforming itself in two generations into a ‘dominating and self-assured people’ and, with the exception of an admirable minority, a contemptuous people taking satisfaction in humiliating others.”

The phrase “dominating and self-assured people” was taken from a speech by Charles de Gaulle, who used it to describe Israelis in the aftermath of the 1967 war.

Mr. Goldnadel filed a complaint on behalf of his organization and the France-Israel Association, charging the authors with racial defamation.

At the subsequent trial, the judge found that any reasonable reader would understand the attack to be against the Sharon government and its supporters, rather than against all Jews. An appeals court, however, decided that three sentences in the 2,665-word article constituted racial defamation under a 1990 antiracism law.

Catherine Cohen, the lawyer for Le Monde, said the defendants had applied for the case to be heard by France’s highest court of appeals, the Court of Cassation, which could uphold the verdict or annul it. Either way, the defendants must pay their token fines and Le Monde must publish the verdict in its pages.

An open letter in support of the defendants, signed by 100 French intellectuals and published in Le Monde last year, argued that criticizing the Israeli government “and even the majority of Israelis who support it,” is far from a condemnation of all Jews. It warned that the case “shows the serious threat, which often takes the form of intimidation, that is looming over freedom of expression in France.”

But Mr. Goldnadel sees the case as part of a larger shift in what is acceptable in public discourse that began with the start of the second intifada. “Since the intifada, the media has suddenly discovered freedom of expression,” he said. “When speaking of Israel or Zionism they say anything they want to now.”

This is not the first case Mr. Goldnadel has brought against Le Monde: in 1999 he sued the newspaper, accusing it of defaming Serbs by equating them with the policies of Slobodan Milosevic. He lost at trial and won on appeal, but lost in the Court of Cassation.

In June 2001, Mr. Goldnadel’s group brought charges against Daniel Mermet, a journalist at Radio France, for broadcasting comments from listeners who blamed Jews in general for Israeli policies, complaining that they had exploited the sympathy won during World War II. Mr. Goldnadel lost in the trial and in the appeal.

He said he hoped the appeals court decision in the latest case represented an effort to address the sharp rise in anti-Semitism that the government and judiciary have been accused of ignoring.

“No one denies now that there has been a rise in anti-Semitism tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said.

 

J’ACCUSE

J’Accuse.
Anti-Semitism at ‘Le Monde’ and beyond.
By Tom Gross
The Wall Street Journal Europe
June 2, 2005

A French court last week found three writers for Le Monde, as well as the newspaper’s publisher, guilty of “racist defamation” against Israel and the Jewish people. In a groundbreaking decision, the Versailles court of appeal ruled that a comment piece published in Le Monde in 2002, “Israel-Palestine: The Cancer,” had whipped up anti-Semitic opinion.

The writers of the article, Edgar Morin (a well-known sociologist), Daniele Sallenave (a senior lecturer at Nanterre University) and Sami Nair (a member of the European parliament), as well as Le Monde’s publisher, Jean-Marie Colombani, were ordered to pay symbolic damages of one euro to a human-rights group and to the Franco-Israeli association. Le Monde was also ordered to publish a condemnation of the article, which it has yet to do.

It is encouraging to see a French court rule that anti-Semitism should have no place in the media even when it is masked as an analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The ruling also makes it clear that the law in this respect applies to extremist Jews (Mr. Morin is Jewish) as much as to non-Jews.

Press freedom is a value to be cherished, but not exploited and abused. In general, European countries have strict laws against such abuse and Europe’s mainstream media are in any case usually good at exercising self-censorship. Responsible journalists strenuously avoid libelous characterizations of entire ethnic, national or religious groups. They go out of their way, for example, to avoid suggesting that the massacres in Darfur, which are being carried out by Arab militias, in any way represent an Arab trait.

The exception to this seems to be the coverage of Jews, particularly Israeli ones. This is particularly ironic given the fact that Europe’s relatively strict freedom of speech laws (compared to those in the U.S.) were to a large extend drafted as a reaction to the Continent’s Nazi occupation. And yet, from Oslo to Athens, from London to Madrid, it has been virtually open season on them in the last few years, especially in supposedly liberal media.

“Israel-Palestine: The Cancer” was a nasty piece of work, replete with lies, slanders and myths about “the chosen people,” “the Jenin massacre,” describing the Jews as “a contemptuous people taking satisfaction in humiliating others,” “imposing their unmerciful rule,” and so on.

Yet it is was no worse than thousands of other news reports, editorials, commentaries, letters, cartoons and headlines published throughout Europe in recent years, in the guise of legitimate and reasoned discussion of Israeli policies.

The libels and distortions about Israel in some British media are by now fairly well known: the Guardian’s equation of Israel and al Qaeda; the Evening Standard’s equation of Israel and the Taliban; the report by the BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Orla Guerin, on how “the Israelis stole Christmas.” Most notorious of all is the Independent’s Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk, who specializes in such observations as his comment that, “If ever a sword was thrust into a military alliance of East and West, the Israelis wielded that dagger,” and who implies that the White House has fallen into the hands of the Jews: “The Perles and the Wolfowitzes and the Cohens ... [the] very sinister people hovering around Bush.”

The invective against Israel elsewhere in Europe is less well known. In Spain, for example, on June 4, 2001 (three days after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 21 young Israelis at a disco, and wounded over 100 others, all in the midst of a unilateral Israeli ceasefire), the liberal weekly Cambio 16 published a cartoon of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (with a hook nose he does not have), wearing a skull cap (which he does not usually wear), sporting a swastika inside a star of David on his chest, and proclaiming: “At least Hitler taught me how to invade a country and destroy every living insect.”

The week before, on May 23, El Pais (the “New York Times of Spain”) published a cartoon of an allegorical figure carrying a small rectangular-shaped black moustache, flying through the air toward Sharon’s upper lip. The caption read: “Clio, the muse of history, puts Hitler’s moustache on Ariel Sharon.”

Two days later, on May 25, the Catalan daily La Vanguardia published a cartoon showing an imposing building, with a sign outside reading “Museo del Holocausto Judio” (Museum of the Jewish Holocaust), and next to it another building under construction, with a large sign reading “Futuro Museo del Holocausto Palestino” (Future Museum of the Palestinian Holocaust).

Greece's largest newspaper, the leftist daily Eleftherotypia, has run several such cartoons. In April 2002, on its front cover, under the title “Holocaust II,” an Israeli soldier was depicted as a Nazi officer and a Palestinian civilian as a Jewish death camp inmate. In September 2002, another cartoon in Eleftherotypia showed an Israeli soldier with a Jewish star telling a Nazi officer next to him “Arafat is not a person the Reich can talk to anymore.” The Nazi officer responds “Why? Is he a Jew?”

In Italy, in October 2001, the Web site of one of the country’s most respected newspapers, La Repubblica, published the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” in its entirety, without providing any historical explanation. It did suggest, however, that the work would help readers understand why the U.S. had taken military action in Afghanistan.

In April 2002, the Italian liberal daily La Stampa ran a front-page cartoon showing an Israeli tank, emblazoned with a Jewish star, pointing a large gun at the baby Jesus in a manger, while the baby pleads, “Surely they don’t want to kill me again, do they?”

In Corriere Della Sera, another cartoon showed Jesus trapped in his tomb, unable to rise, because Ariel Sharon, rifle in hand, is sitting on the sepulcher.

Sweden’s largest morning paper, Dagens Nyheter, ran a caricature of a Hassidic Jew accusing anyone who criticized Israel of anti-Semitism. Another leading Swedish paper, Aftonbladet, used the headline “The Crucifixion of Arafat.”

If the misreporting and bias were limited to one or two newspapers or television programs in each country, it might be possible to shrug them off. But they are not. Bashing Israel even extends to local papers that don’t usually cover foreign affairs, such as the double-page spread titled “Jews in jackboots” in “Luton on Sunday.” (Luton is an industrial town in southern England.) Or the article in Norway’s leading regional paper, Stavanger Aftenblad, equating Israel’s actions against terrorists in Ramallah with the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Grotesque and utterly false comparisons such as these should have no place in reporting or commenting on the Middle East. Yet although the French court ruling the first of its kind in Europe is a major landmark, no one in France seems to care. The country’s most distinguished newspaper, the paper of record, has been found guilty of anti-Semitism. One would have thought that such a verdict would prompt wide-ranging coverage and lead to extensive soul-searching and public debate. Instead, there has been almost complete silence, and virtually no coverage in the French press.

And few elsewhere will have heard about it. Reuters and Agence France Presse (agencies that have demonstrated particularly marked bias against Israel) ran short stories about the judgment in their French-language wires last week, but chose not to run them on their English news services. The Associated Press didn’t run it at all. Instead of triggering the long overdue reassessment of Europe’s attitude toward Israel, the media have chosen to ignore it.

(Mr. Gross is a former Jerusalem correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph and the New York Daily News.)


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