Why did Hollande not grasp that turning a propagandist of anti-Israel hatred into a national hero would only fuel lethal anti-Semitism like what was seen in the Merah affair?
At any rate, did not the president realize that Hessel’s overblown iconic status may soon burst?
Guy Fellous, the former secretary general of the French National Consultative Commission of Human Rights, befriended Hessel, a member of the committee, in the 1990s. According to him, Hessel — while once a charming, decent, and ethical gentleman — became in his last years a puppet in the hands of unscrupulous manipulators that “turned him, much in the Stalinian fashion, into a monument to their own cause.”
Claude Moisy, the former CEO of Agence France-Presse, took a less indulgent line. He pointed in a recent column to the many lies and half-lies Hessel had relied upon to reconstruct himself as a major 20th century figure:
To be entirely honest, one would need to quote hundreds of articles over decades … where he relies on extremely ambiguous wordings but never denies the flattering role so many people ascribed to him.
Just to stick to the war and postwar period, Hessel claimed falsely or let people claim falsely on his behalf that he had contributed to the Program of the French Resistance National Council in 1943 or 1944; that he had been groomed for an ambassadorship to China in 1945; and that he had contributed to the UN Human Rights Declaration of 1948. All brazen and absurd assertions from which he had to withdraw hastily.
Hollande was clearly not entirely at ease when he praised Hessel at the Invalides compound. He said about Hessel’s hatred of Israel:
He might as well, driven by such a cause as legitimate as the Palestinian people’s one, stun his own friends, of whom I was one. Being sincere is not necessarily saying the truth. He knew that. But who could dispute the fact he was a courageous man?
Everybody could, Mr. President.