Energetic tired determined intelligent harried impatient boyish argumentative charming brusque — those are a few adjectives that come to mind as one attempts to describe Philippe Karsenty, the tireless talking thorn who has embedded himself in the side of France’s government-owned television channel, France 2, and even more firmly between the ribs of its revered Franco-Israeli Jerusalem correspondent, Charles Enderlin, the reporter responsible for having perpetrated what is now often referred to as the “Al-Dura hoax.”
It all began almost ten years ago — on September 30, 2000, when France 2 ran a 50-second tape of what appeared to be the death by Israeli fire in Gaza of Mohammed al-Dura, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, while he cowered in the arms of his father – a contemporary pietá for the Arab world. Enderlin, who had not been present at the scene, and whose editors had edited the tape from the roughly six minutes of footage sent to them by the channel’s Palestinian camera man (who had himself cut it down from 27 minutes of tape), plainly stated in his voiceover that the boy had been intentionally shot by Israeli soldiers and that he had died.
Initially accepted as fact, the report is now widely disbelieved, and no one can take greater credit for exposing and publicizing France 2’s fabrication than Karsenty.
“Do you know what is the bottom line of all this?” he told me recently. “It is the first blood libel of our 21st century, and it’s the beginning of the Israel-bashing of our 21st century, the beginning of the international jihad which started before 9/11. It [happened] a year before 9/11, and it [was] used by bin Laden to incite 9/11. So it’s really the starting point of the international jihad against the Western world.”
Karsenty was speaking in a booth of “Le Train Bleu,” a grandly ornate 19th century restaurant above the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris, from where he would shortly leave for Lausanne, Switzerland, to deliver a lecture. At 44 years of age, the former stockbroker, now an elected official in the Neuilly-sur-Seine district of Paris, has the tanned, gleaming epidermis of the lens-ready public figure. His eyes are a limpid brown, his lips well-shaped, and he is quick to flash a politician’s smile when faced with a camera.
The French art of diplomacy is not his strong point. He calls France’s most famously dashing politician a text-book anti-Semite, paints “self-hating” or ”cowardly” Jews with a broad and critical brush, and throws around politically incorrect opinions as casually as he drops a 100 Euro note to pay for his lunch. There is more than a touch of American impatience about him, but he doesn’t like what’s on view across the Atlantic.
“We are seeing America declining, declining, declining, and we are seeing Europeans so happy to see America following their path. The French so-called intellectuals are so happy with Obama putting America on its knees. For people who are fighting for the free world, it’s a disaster. Ask the Koreans what they think about Obama. I’m sure they don’t like him at all. Ask the Japanese. … It’s November or never, my friend.”
Even as the French news media does whatever it can to ignore him, Karsenty makes news. On June 10 he won a lawsuit in the court of Nanterre against the French pay station Canal + (a subsidiary of Vivendi Universal), which he had sued for defaming his character in the television documentary, Rumeurs, Intox: Les Nouvelles Guerres de l’Info. The film aired shortly before a verdict on April 24, 2008, in which Karsenty successfully appealed against a previous court judgment, in 2006, in which he had been judged guilty of defaming Enderlin’s character. But by 2008 he had marshaled enough evidence to establish that France 2’s report was journalistically shaky at best and his previous conviction was reversed.
When we met, Karsenty was also awaiting the result of another legal battle, this one involving L’Express magazine, which he had also sued for defamation of character. The verdict would be delivered in a few days’ time, and he was feeling hopeful. “French society is anti-Semitically sick,” he said as he tore into a salad. (He had just come from two meetings, and was frantically hungry.) “The only body that resists is the French Justice [system]. Only the Justice [system] tells the truth.”
As its tenth anniversary approaches, the Al-Dura case remains both infamous and threatened with encroaching obscurity. Though it is likely to be widely commemorated in the Muslim world, Karsenty doubts it will get much publicity in France, where the media continues to “hide and protect the hoax.”
Two years ago the left-wing French newsweekly Le Nouvel Observateur asked journalists, intellectuals, and just about anyone else connected to the media to sign a petition in support of Enderlin and France 2’s reportage, while deploring the behavior of Karsenty. The petition can be viewed online, and the number of names attached to it is staggering. (A wickedly amusing article about the petition, and the underlying politics of the French media, was published in the Weekly Standard by Anne-Elizabeth Moutet in July 2008.)
“You know why so many journalists sign for Enderlin?” he asked rhetorically. “Because they don’t want anyone to look into their work. Some of them [have] made so many mistakes. … You know, I used to be a stock broker and I made mistakes. When I was a stockbroker, I would have signed a petition to prevent you from looking inside the accounts of any of my colleagues. All of us do that. All professions make mistakes. The main problem is that when you’re making mistakes in finance, or in industry, or in construction, then you have someone who says, ‘Hey, you made a mistake, you have to correct this!’ But in the media, nobody asks you to correct, and you are protected by your colleagues. People say, ‘Oh, but there is competition between the media!’ But this is not true. There is no competition, especially when it comes to this kind of topic.”
The Israeli establishment has not been much kinder. Four years ago Karsenty ran into Israel’s ambassador to France at a cocktail party. The ambassador refused to shake his hand. “I was like this,” Karsenty says, leaning forward in his seat and stretching out his arm. “He refused to shake my hand. Because he was a friend of Enderlin’s.”
And there, perhaps, we come to the crux of the matter. It is tempting to suggest that Enderlin may have more friends than even the most socially ambitious teenager on FaceBook, only in his case the friendships are real, and powerful, from Israel’s current President, Shimon Peres, to France’s omnipresent left-wing economist, author, and talking head, Jacques Attali. Nicolas Sarkozy’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, bestowed the Legion of Honor on Enderlin in August 2009, thus sealing the reporter’s respectability, and the list of names on Le Nouvel Observateur’s Web site continues to grow.
A small number of people in France have backed Karsenty, including the philosopher Pierre-Andre Taguieff, who dedicated a substantial part of his recently published book, “La Nouvelle Propagande Anti-Juive” (“The New Anti-Jewish Propaganda”) to the al-Dura saga. Karsenty notes that Taguieff is not Jewish, which he believes is a plus in this case, and says that the formerly mediagenic philosopher has been cut dead as a result of his new book. He flatly describes those Jews who have failed to criticize France 2’s reportage – “most of the Jews at the highest levels, the so-called Jewish intellectuals” – as “pathetic. They are court Jews who traded decency for access to power and the media outlets.”
So where does the case against France 2, which at the moment is in France’s Supreme Court, go from here? Karsenty once expressed the hope that President Sarkozy, as the de facto head of France 2, might step in to resolve the issue once and for all. “He might, and you know what, he will,” he said. “If not him, his successor will force France 2 to admit the fraud. This is the only bottom line of this fight. This fight is [for] the admission of the lie. Of the blood-libel. Of the hoax. That’s it. My ultimate goal is acknowledgement of the hoax. When it’s done, it’s done.”
A few days after our meeting, Karsenty e-mailed me to say that he had lost the lawsuit against L’Express. The judgment stated that although the magazine article had indeed been defamatory in its characterization of Karsenty, it had been written in good faith, since the truth of the matter was unknown at the time and the author, Vincent Hugeux, had relied on the Canal + documentary for his information. So a temporary setback, yes, but reading between the lines, another in a series of hairline fractures in the carapace of respectability the French media has fought so hard to maintain around Enderlin’s original report.
Pressed as to where he planned to take the case from here, Karsenty stated that his only goal was to have France 2 officially admit to the al-Dura fraud on its evening broadcast. As for the cover-up, he says, that will be for historians to study. (The French press aren’t big on reporting cover-ups – one reason why they were so astonished by Watergate in the 1970s.)
A small but telling step in the direction of Karsenty’s goal was taken on July 12 when the newly appointed head of French television, Remy Pflimlin, was asked, at a hearing in the French Senate, about France 2 and the Al-Dura case by Senator Jean-Pierre Plancade. Predictably, Pflimlin acted as if he had never heard of the case (he said he would “examine the dossier”), but the fact that it was mentioned at all was yet another tell-tale sign that sooner or later, France 2’s error will have to be admitted to.
Why did this particular senator – described by Karsenty as “a leftist, but a very soft leftist” — bring up such a controversial subject in so public a forum? For the simple reason, Karsenty says, that Plancade is “a decent man who can’t stand France 2’s lies, anti-Semitism, and the cowardly attitude of France’s other media outlets on Al-Dura.” As to the question’s effect, Karsenty believes the mere airing of the subject is enough to make France 2 and its allies in the media feel increasingly uncomfortable.
For the time being, Karsenty is willing to give French television’s new CEO the benefit of the doubt and wait and see what he does. “All the options are on the table but I believe in common sense and I’m sure he will not want to spend his mandate with al-Dura not solved.”
As Karsenty got ready to catch his train, I accompanied him to a news agency inside the station where he went to buy some gum. At least two books by one of his many foes, Attali, were on prominent display at the tables in the center of the store. In a loud voice, Karsenty asked the lady behind the counter if they carried “La Nouvelle Propagande Anti-Juive,” the new book by Taguieff – whose work he assured me would normally be on sale at the train station, where bulky tomes by philosophes are promoted as avidly as detective novels.
Was it my imagination, or was there an unusual decisiveness in the woman’s voice when she replied, in an equally strong voice, that, no, they did not carry it? The honest answer is: It was hard to be sure.
I watched Karsenty disappear into the rush of international commuters, looked around at that magnificent old train station, and thought, not for the first time, what a beautiful country France is.
(Photo of Karsenty in thumbnail by Bernhard — Ed.)