“That shitty little country Israel”

December 19, 2001


[Note by Tom Gross]

There has been a strong reaction in the UK to Barbara Amiel's article I sent out on Monday in the dispatch titled Renewed anti-Semitism in England since Sept. 11 (December 18, 2001).

As a result there are calls for the French Ambassador to London to be recalled to Paris. (By way of example, below is an article from the Times of London.)

One should note that the ambassador is a close confidante of President Chirac, and was previously France's ambassador at the UN.

There has also been a good deal of sympathy for the ambassador, including racist comments against Jews and Israelis, comments I am not at liberty to repeat here for reasons of libel.

I also attach two Guardian diary entries from Matthew Norman on the comments by the French ambassador.

-- Tom Gross


Diplomatic gaffe puts Tory salon out of joint
By Andrew Pierce
The Times (of London)
December 19, 2001

The evening began as a party to honor a rising star of publishing and the Tory party. But by the time the last guest had left a diplomatic gaffe had been committed that threatens the career of France's Ambassador to London.

Daniel Bernard was said to have made crude anti-Semitic remarks at the buffet party at the end of last week for Boris Johnson, Editor of The Spectator and successor to Michael Heseltine as Tory MP for Henley. Worse still, the ambassador made the alleged comments in private to his host, Lord Black of Crossharbour, proprietor of The Daily Telegraph, whom he regarded as a close friend, at Lord Black's home in Kensington.

Unfortunately for M Bernard the conversation was conveyed by Lord Black to his journalist wife, Barbara Amiel, who hosted the "Boris Johnson Phenomenon" evening.

She referred to the remark in her Daily Telegraph column. Ms Amiel was not at the table when the fateful conversation took place.

Ms Amiel wrote that the "ambassador of a major EU country told me" that the international security crisis had been triggered by "that shitty little country Israel". The ambassador, according to Ms Amiel, added:

"Why should we be in danger of world war three because of these people?" Ms Amiel, to protect the identity of her guest, did not name the ambassador.

There was no need to. Within 24 hours he had been identified as M Bernard, a man on close terms with President Chirac. Yesterday he was distraught about the breach of trust at a party where he thought he was among friends. The ensuing diplomatic fallout has led to calls from senior figures in the Jewish community in Britain for M Bernard to step down.

Yves Charpentier, Press Secretary at the French Embassy, confirmed that the ambassador Ms Amiel had referred to was M Bernard, who is a Roman Catholic.

M Charpentier said: "The ambassador regarded it as a private dinner with friends. He was surprised to have his remarks reported in this way. He discussed a number of topics including the Israeli and Palestinian conflict."

Challenged whether he used the phrase "that shitty little country Israel", M Charpentier said: "The ambassador does not remember if he used those words.

"The ambassador said we were facing a geographically limited problem, a small area, which has disproportionately huge consequences for world peace. He is not anti-Semitic or anti Israel."

The British Board of Deputies, representing the Jewish community in Britain, expressed concern at the ambassador's apparent criticism. A spokesman said: "These remarks do not constitute the official view of the French Embassy as they were said in a personal capacity. But it does cause grave concern if that is the ambassador's personal opinion, particularly as the country he is talking about is one his Government claims is our staunch friend."

M Charpentier said: "We are sending a Christmas card to them (Lord and Lady Black) today." Asked if the ambassador would return for dinner, he added: "That depends whether they invite him."


Barbara Amiel: Factfile
The Times (of London)
December 19, 2001

Otherwise known as: Lady Black

Age: 61, but looks 51. Her close friend Miriam Gross says: "I feel quite frumpy next to her."

Status: married in 1992 to fourth husband Lord Black of Crossharbour who owns the Hollinger publishing group, which includes The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph, for which she writes

Famous saying: "I do not regard my husband's money as my own."

Day job: journalist

Night job: chatelaine of influential political salon.

Other job: director of The Spectator

Homes: divides her time between New York, Toronto, Palm Beach and a stucco "residence" with eight staff in Kensington

Friends of: Baroness Thatcher, Lord Powell, Duke of Marlborough, Sir Elton John, former foreign policy adviser to Lady Thatcher and John Major

Need to know: Lady Black was born in Watford during the Blitz while her grandfather was saving hundreds of people from German bombs the town now boasts an Amiel Street

Education: moved to Canada after her parents' divorce. A scholarship to the University of Toronto was followed by a career in journalism, which once saw her imprisoned in Mozambique for the sake of a scoop

Career highlights: first female editor of The Toronto Sun. She returned to Britain in the 1980s and became known as the Iron Lady of Wapping because of her attacks on the liberal establishment


Daniel Bernard: Factfile
The Times (of London)
December 19, 2001

Otherwise known as: the eyes and ears in London of President Chirac

Age: 60

Status: married, but his wife Monique, whom he married in 1964, prefers to stay at their home in Paris. They have two sons and one daughter

Famous sayings (allegedly): "That shitty little country Israel" and "Hunting is a very important issue in France, but not in the same class-ridden way it is in this country. We have a different attitude. Yes, it used to be the privilege of the nobility, but that all ended with the revolution. After that it became the right of peasants to hunt, shoot, whatever"

Homes: official residence in London and a home in Paris

Friends of: Lord Black of Crossharbour and Barbara Amiel. For now

Need to know: grew up in Lyons at a time when France's second city became one of the first to set up a twinning arrangement with an opposite number in Britain. Which is how, as a schoolboy, he came to Birmingham on an exchange, and discovered cricket, which he follows avidly

Education: studied English at the University of Lyons

Career highlights: worked in the upper echelons of public service leading to an ambassadorial posting to The Netherlands in 1993. France's representative at the United Nations in 1995, before he arrived in London in September 1998


* I attach two diary items from The Guardian Newspaper. -- TG


Guardian Diary
By Matthew Norman
December 19, 2001

Chapeaux aloft to the embassy of France, if you please, for the hilarious letter that concerns our identification of ambassador Daniel Bernard as the gifted diplomat who, at Barbara Amiel and Conrad Black's dinner table, referred to "that shitty little country Israel". His Excellency was "surprised", Yves Charpentier remarks, "to read the remarks attributed to him regarding Israel". Was he, forsooth? Not so surprised, however, that he can deny them. But perhaps some succinct textual analysis might help. "The ambassador was expressing... the view that we were facing a geographically limited problem" - now would that be the "little country" reference? - "which is proving extremely difficult to resolve" (the "shitty" bit, perhaps?)... Any other interpretation is erroneous and any other historical reference is insulting for the ambassador..." Well, we're absolutely heartbroken if we've upset the poor lamb simply because and I hope this interpretation isn't too erroneous the French ambassador is an imbecilic little turd (to adapt from his own lexicon of scatological diplomacy) who ought to be horsewhipped all the way back to the Quai D'Orsee. And having done our best to smooth over this sad misunderstanding, let's hear no more about it. Not, at least, until tomorrow, when we may have news of an outing to the French embassy.



Guardian Diary
By Matthew Norman
December 18, 2001

Now please, please don't ignore this one just because it appeared here first (see below for more detail). It stems from an article in the Daily Telegraph by Barbara Amiel, the wife of the paper's owner Conrad Black, about the rise in overt anti-semitism since September 11. Barbara is Jewish and, like her goyishe husband, a passionate supporter of Israel. You will imagine her horror, then (and in truth it may be a bit of a shocker even for those of us who aren't senior officials in the Ariel Sharon Fan Club), when recently, as she relates, "the ambassador of a major EU country politely told a gathering at my home that the current troubles in the world were all because of 'that shitty little country Israel'." Blimey. Barbara has the ambassador go on: "Why should the world be put in danger because of those people?" The country represented by this Excellency, we are pleased to reveal, is France. But perhaps you guessed that already. Assuming that the ambassador Daniel Bernard isn't recalled to Paris to explain himself, we hope to discuss his approach to the complex matter of Middle Eastern diplomacy later today.

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