When it Comes to Al-Dura, Journalists Are Against Free Speech

Earlier this month, the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur launched a surreal "Appeal for Charles Enderlin" in response to a French court judgment clearing media critic Philippe Karsenty of charges of having "defamed" Enderlin and his employer, France 2 public television. The court thus overturned the October 2006 condemnation of Karsenty by a lower court.

A full professional translation of the higher court's judgment is available here on Richard Landes's Augean Stables blog. (The complete judgment in French is here.) Richard Landes's translation of the Nouvel Observateur's "Appeal for Charles" is here. The "Appeal" has in the meanwhile been signed by hundreds of Enderlin's colleagues in French journalism, plus several "personalities," and even some simple "web surfers" [internautes].

I say that it is surreal, since it is by no means clear what the point of the appeal is supposed to be or what exactly the signatories want done "for Charles Enderlin." It was not, after all, Enderlin who was on trial: he and France 2 were the plaintiffs. The "Appeal for Charles" identifies Karsenty as the "person mainly responsible" for an "obstinate and hateful campaign" against Enderlin. But, as PJM readers will know (and Nouvel Observateur readers might not), Karsenty is in fact just one of numerous critics who have challenged the authenticity of Enderlin's September 2000 report allegedly showing the killing of the Palestinian boy Mohammed Al-Dura by Israeli troops.

It was indeed France 2's legal strategy of singling out Karsenty and two other website owners for prosecution -- as well as Karsenty's "obstinate" refusal to be intimidated -- that converted him into one of the chief protagonists of what has become the "Al-Dura affair."

The authors of the "Appeal" -- like Enderlin himself in a blog post published shortly after the rendering of the court's decision -- take heart in the fact that the higher court "recognized" that Karsenty's litigious remarks regarding the Al-Dura report "unquestionably do damage to the honor and reputation of news professionals": i.e. Enderlin and France 2 as a whole. But the court's observation in this connection is in fact a mere tautology. In his November 2004 text -- in which, incidentally, Karsenty called for the "immediate dismissal" of Enderlin and France 2 news director Arlette Chabot -- Karsenty himself describes Enderlin's Al-Dura report and, above all, France 2's defense of it as "a masquerade that does dishonor [déshonore] to France and its public television."

The real question, of course, is whether Karsenty's criticisms of France 2 are well-founded and whether the underlying accusation that the Al-Dura report was a fake is true -- or, in other words, whether it is not in fact, as Karsenty's remarks suggested, Enderlin and France 2 that brought the "dishonor" upon themselves. The French court did not answer this question. Nor indeed did it have any need to do so.