An 'Independent' Al-Dura Commission in France?

On Tuesday, France's leading Jewish organization, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF), held a press conference in Paris to publicize its call for the establishment of an "independent investigative commission" on the al-Dura affair. The event was held at Paris's posh Hilton Arc de Triomphe and in the presence of numerous representatives of the mainstream, or "institutional," French media, including the state-sponsored Agence France-Presse (AFP) wire service. A camera crew from French public television France 2 filmed the entire proceedings. France 2 is the very television network whose contested September 2000 report allegedly showing the killing of the Palestinian boy Mohammed al-Dura would form the object of the commission. Further reflecting the excellent coordination between the CRIF and France's established "media of reference," on the same day the daily Le Figaro featured a full-page article on the CRIF initiative and the al-Dura controversy more generally on page 2. A large blow-up of the iconic video frame showing Jamal al-Dura supposedly protecting his screaming child from Israeli fire covers nearly half the page.

The French media interest in the event stands in marked contrast to the "benign neglect" of the al-Dura controversy studiously practiced by the leading French news organizations up until now. Like the CRIF initiative itself, this sudden interest is undoubtedly a consequence of the unexpected turn taken in the affair in May, when a French appeals court overturned an earlier court's condemnation of media critic Philippe Karsenty for having "defamed" France 2 and its longtime Middle East correspondent Charles Enderlin. As regular PJM readers will know, Karsenty is one of many critics who have called into question the authenticity of the al-Dura report. France 2 and Enderlin have in the meanwhile announced their intention to appeal the latest ruling in turn.

In opening the press conference, CRIF president Richard Prasquier alluded to the ongoing legal battle and summed up what he called the "position of the CRIF" as follows: "The position of the CRIF is very simple," he said. "We are looking to establish the truth. ... We are not for one party or the other." In both substance and style, however, the rest of Prasquier's remarks clearly belied this supposedly "simple" commitment to finding the truth and suggested rather a calculated initiative meant to serve essentially political ends: to achieve, so to say, a "negotiated settlement" of the al-Dura controversy. The most blatant giveaway of this political character of the CRIF initiative -- blatant, at any rate, to anyone other than a member of the French establishment -- was Prasquier's proposal to have France 2 itself associated with the "independent" commission. Indeed, Prasquier proposed that France 2 should be the co-sponsor of the commission:

My wish is that this expert commission would be a joint decision of France 2 and us [i.e., apparently the CRIF] and that the decisions of this expert commission ... the conclusions of this expert commission would be sufficiently contradictory and sufficiently valid to be accepted as what one can at this time most nearly identify with the truth of what happened.

The diplomatic tenor of Prasquier's remarks is striking -- to say nothing of the revealing slip from "conclusions" to "decisions." The conclusions of the commission should be "sufficiently contradictory" -- apparently meaning that they should take into account the viewpoints of all parties -- that they can be "accepted" as approximating the reality: apparently meaning "accepted" as well by France 2. This last condition obviously rules out certain potential findings of the commission in advance: for example, that Enderlin and France 2 not only broadcast a fake report, but did so knowingly. Under duress, France 2 and Enderlin might be expected to "accept" the former conclusion, thus leaving the Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahma as the fall guy in the entire affair. The latter conclusion, however, they could not "accept" under any circumstances without incurring not only an obvious knockout blow to their credibility, but indeed, as will be seen momentarily, potential criminal liability as well.