On Trump’s comment: A different media reaction when Israel was described as “shitty”

January 16, 2018

A display in a book shop of titles from ‘s*hole countries’

 

WHEN A FRENCH AMBASSADOR DESCRIBED ISRAEL AS A 'SH---Y LITTLE COUNTRY' – AND POLITE SOCIETY DEFENDED HIM

When a French ambassador described Israel as a 'sh---y little country' – and polite society defended him
By Tom Gross
Daily Telegraph (London)
January 16, 2018

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/16/french-ambassador-described-israel-sh-y-little-country-reporter/

Donald Trump’s reference to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “s---hole countries” has rightly been condemned the world over.

Bookstores have put out display tables using the banner “Books from s---hole countries”. The word “s---hole” was projected, using enormous letters, alongside a poop emoji, onto the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

"This is CNN Tonight. I’m Don Lemon. The president of the United States is racist,” is how CNN host Lemon began his prime time broadcast. “Have you no sense of decency?” asked James Fallows in The Atlantic, adding that we are now living in a “s---hole era”.

“Donald Trump Flushes Away America’s Reputation,” ran the headline of the New York Times editorial. The New York Daily News's front page was filled by an enormous cartoon replacing Trump’s body with a pile of excrement.


Equally strong words have been used in the British media about the president’s use of the S-word (which, for the record, Trump has not admitted using).

But if one recalls the last time the representative of a major western government used the S-word to describe an entire country, the media reaction was very different.

When then French ambassador to London, Daniel Bernard, told guests at a dinner hosted by writer Barbara Amiel (who was a Telegraph columnist at the time) in December 2001, that Israel was a “sh---y little country,” some journalists rushed to his defense or even praised him.

For example, an article in the Independent by one of the paper’s most prominent columnists at the time, Deborah Orr, described Israel as “sh---y” and “little” no fewer than four times (at the time the Independent was winning newspaper-of-the-year awards).

The French ambassador to London is not the American president, of course. But he is nonetheless the official representative of one of the world’s most important countries: a nuclear power, one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, a G8 member, the land of egalité and fraternité and a supposedly sophisticated ruling elite.

And Bernard was not just any ambassador. He was one of then French President Jacques Chirac’s closest confidantes, and had previously served as France’s UN ambassador.

Also, whereas several countries had to bear the brunt of Trump’s insult last week, in Bernard's comment, Israel had the ignominy of being the only country singled out in this way.

Israel, the nation at the cutting edge of medical and scientific advance that benefits all mankind; Israel, that has won more Nobel prizes per capita than any other country; Israel the nation state of a people who have arguably suffered from more prolonged, pervasive and widespread racism than any other.

It is hard to think of anything more horrific than doctors experimenting on Jewish children; removing their eyeballs, injecting them with deadly diseases (without anesthetic of course) and so on. Or stripping naked and shooting dead tens of thousands of Jewish men, women and children in the biggest massacre in modern history at the Babi Yar ravine in Ukraine.

Anti-Semitism of course didn’t start – or end – with the Holocaust. It was still very much alive when Ambassador Bernard made his remarks and it was still very much in evidence last Friday when a 15-year-old French girl had her face slashed with a knife by a man shouting anti-Semitic slurs, as she left her Jewish school in a Parisian suburb.

Yet when Bernard made his “sh---y” remark, the British and French press seemed to spend more time criticizing the messenger, Barbara Amiel, in whose home the remark was made, than the ambassador.

Le Monde ran a front-page attack on Amiel, for having had the temerity to reveal the ambassador’s comment.

In The Guardian, Matt Wells (“Every salon tells a story – that’s why the lady is a hack”), denounced Amiel as “an arch-Zionist” but had nothing but sympathy for Bernard who, he claimed “was struggling against a tide of anger from Israel.” (In fact the Israeli government hadn’t made a single official comment on the matter at the time Wells’ article was published).

Writing in the Observer, columnist Richard Ingrams (in a piece titled “Black’s hole” – Black being Amiel’s married name) said the “gaffe” wasn’t made by the ambassador, but by Amiel for “betraying the confidences of the dinner table” and writing such an “intemperate article”.

Independent on Sunday columnist Joan Smith (“Dinner at Amiel’s leaves a bad taste”) wrote that Amiel’s “assumption that Bernard’s remark was anti-Semitic, is pretty dubious… If there is a lesson to be learned from this episode, it is not the French ambassador’s politics that have been called into question on this occasion, but his taste in friends.”

Richard Woods in the Sunday Times said Bernard’s remark was only “apparently anti-Semitic”.

It is hard to imagine an Observer or Guardian columnist calling “pretty dubious” the “assumption” that Trump’s “s---hole” remark was racist. And one wonders what the reaction would have been if, for example, the French ambassador had described Kenya as “shitty” at Amiel's table.

Anti-Semitism denial is so pervasive among some in Britain that in October, Momentum founder Jon Lansman – the person who perhaps more than any other helped to propel Jeremy Corbyn to the head of the Labour party in 2015 – told the BBC’s Andrew Marr:

“You have to be a Jew to actually experience anti-Semitism. I have experienced anti-Semitism; my children, who are only half Jewish, have experienced it. I know there is a problem with anti-Semitism and it has to be dealt with.”

Labour party members and activists have claimed Jewish bankers control Britain, that the Mossad was behind Isil and the Sandy Hook massacre, and that the Jews are behind the slave trade.

One would hope that if the representative of a major western government today were to describe the Jewish state, rather than African states, as sh---y, there would be an equal level of outrage. But somehow I doubt it.

 

(This piece was picked up elsewhere, for example, the second item here on the New York Post editorial page.)

 

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