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McCarthyism for Jews

By Amiram Barkat


Prof. Daniel Dayan uses personal anecdote to buttress his theory about the exclusion of Jews in French society. They have, he says, been pushed outside the boundaries of the French "public." This sense of being ejected from the bosom of media consensus - which Dayan himself says he has experienced - may also be seen as a window on the hidden motives of the man, who does confess that he isn't objective and admits that he is "making a case."

"About two years ago, I was interviewed by the popular weekly Telerama," says Dayan. "The reporter approached me as an expert on the media - I had been interviewed as such on other occasions - and asked me general questions. I don't remember exactly how the subject arose, but during the interview I observed that if the public discourse in France on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so slanted in Israel's favor, how can we explain France's use of the term intifada without mentioning the parallel Israeli term, which certainly exists, to describe the conflict? The reporter smiled in embarrassment and said: `Well, we won't be able to publish something like that.' I insisted. The reporter talked with her editor and finally they decided my quote would be published, but in the headline over the interview it said `Jewish expert.'"

Dayan as a young man specialized in semiotics and did his doctorate at the Academy of Social Sciences in Paris, with the philosopher Roland Barthes, one of the most important scholars of language and society in 20th-century France.

He became familiar with the media world in California, studying film at Stanford University. There, Dayan met historian Shaul Friedlander and, through him, Prof. Elihu Katz, considered an expert on the relationship between the media and society. Thus began a long-term academic partnership, and the pair went on to co-author many articles.

Dayan, who studied at Hebrew University in the 1970s, now works as a senior researcher at the renowned National Center for Science Research (CNRS) and as a lecturer at universities in Oslo and Geneva.

He says he first began looking at how the media in France view Israel after Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in September 2001, when he had the impression that "the French media had already crowned Ariel Sharon as prime minister of Israel" at the time.

In the context of the wave of attacks on French Jews that began after the outbreak of the Al Aqsa intifada, Dayan came together with French intellectuals, most of them Jews of North African origin like sociologist Shmuel Trigano and film director Jacques Tarnero.

Shared outrage

Their shared outrage forged an ad hoc group that undertook a media campaign to expose tendentiousness in the French media. Important milestones in that effort were the publication in October 2002, of "The French: Are they objective?" - an anthology of articles by members of the group - and the film Decryptage (Decryption) currently being shown in Paris.

Last week, Dayan lectured at a conference on "anti-Semitism and prejudice in the contemporary media" organized by Prof. Robert Wistrich, director of the Vidal Sassoon Center for Research on Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University. He spoke about the analysis of "how prejudice is constructed" in the higher echelons of the French media in terms of its attitudes to Israel over the last two years.

Dayan takes aim first and foremost at Le Monde, the newspaper he says is "not only the central platform for public discourse in France, but also the heart of a galaxy of media outlets that it has purchased in recent years, that articulates and disseminates its content."

Not random acts

For the last two years, Dayan and his partners have been trying to prove what the French press is trying to hide - that the wave of incidents directed at Jewish targets in France is not a random collection of isolated and disturbed acts, but anti-Semitism.

Dayan argues that public opinion, in the academic sense of the term, doesn't exist today in France. He says the prerequisite for the existence of real public opinion is a supply of objective information via the media. "Public opinion in France concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict collapsed because the French media supplied the public with non-information."

By non-information, Dayan means journalists who articulate the thoughts of one of the sides, "the Palestinian of course," as if they were their own, or who write about the conflict sitting in Paris and speak in the name of that side - "what I call `karaoke.'"

The reasons for this are to be found in the sources of French anti-Israeli sentiment, according to Dayan. He says the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is perfect for France's double guilt complex, the one from Algeria and the other from Vichy. "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict serves the French guilt complex twice - first via the argument that the people of the Holocaust is itself perpetrating a holocaust on another people. And second, by arguing that the Israelis are colonialists, and therefore hating them is permissible and desirable, and can't be considered racism."

The hatred for Israel generalizes well to the attitude toward French Jews, who can't do anything about it: "If they attack you on the street, what can you do? Go around with a sign saying `I have nothing to do with Israel?' Maybe you'll raise a flag? Maybe wear a yellow patch?"

The image of Jews as seen by the French "public" comes to them, as noted, through the eyes of the media. "To identify the attitude of the French media toward Jews in France, one must examine who is chosen to respond "in the name of the Jews," says Dayan. "There are people with official positions in the community, and there are three groups of intellectuals. The first group identifies automatically with Sharon; the second group automatically blames Israel and negates its existence; and the third group of people like me, supports `Peace Now' and opposes supporting or blaming Israel automatically."

The first group, in Dayan's view, represents the new identity of French Jewry. Dayan doesn't see anti-Semitism in the customary broad context of the phenomenon, but rather as an outcome of the internal societal reconstruction of identities in France, which can be concisely rendered as "Muslims, in; Jews, out."

"French society took a giant and revolutionary step from its standpoint in order to absorb the Muslim immigrants. The model that had shaped French identity since Napoleon's time, changed. There had been a very paternalistic model of the educational system, very homogeneous from the standpoint of values, but also color blind.

"This is the mold in which French identity has been shaped. This is the mold thanks to which a son of farmers like Pierre Bourdieu or a North African immigrant like Jacques Derrida, or like me, can become well-known intellectuals. This is the enlightenment that so entranced the Jews.

Muslims embraced

"This was the delicacy, the bait, the reason that people so love the French. When this model was tested with respect to the absorption of Muslims into French society, doubts surfaced. The result was the change to which I refer. The French told the Muslims, `We are willing to change in order to accept you.' In other words, we are prepared to try to understand you so that you can feel part of us."

I gather that your attitude to this change is not necessarily negative?

"Not at all. I admire the effort the French made. Their willingness to learn about the Qur'an and about Muslim symbols. The tremendous popularity accorded to any exhibition connected with the Muslim world that opens in Paris. It's true that the French attempt at integration with the Muslim community hasn't succeeded thus far, but the attempt is real, substantial, impressive.

"The problem that outrages me is that, in contrast to the effort to build a new French identity - one that the Muslim immigrants can feel an undifferentiated part of - an effort has been made in the other direction, to remove the Jews from this identity and turn them into a group apart, a marginalized group. Why does there have to be a symmetry of that kind?"

In Dayan's approach, the Jews from the first group, the ones who reflexively support Israel and Sharon, are precisely suited to the new identity that France would like to accord the Jews. Their positions are perceived as partisan and unacceptable to "public opinion" and hence they themselves collectively are different, strange.

Those in the second group, whose members despise Sharon and cast doubt on the State of Israel's right to exist , Dayan sees as the "desired" Jews who comprise an integral community in the new French identity.

"Take for instance a former Israeli like Roni Brauman, who once argued that the Jewish community's support for Israel is tantamount to being a `partner in crime.' A few months later, a certain media outlet approached Brauman to interview him about the future cultural life of the Jews in France. Brauman's response was that `I don't know about that, and it doesn't interest me,' but when he opposed the Jewish community's support for Israel, he spoke as Jew."

The paradox is that Brauman from the outset was accorded a platform by the media, to express his criticism of the community, with an implicit understanding that he would be presented as a Jew voicing criticism of the Jewish community.

The third group, Dayan's group, which in the days of Oslo was pampered nicely, became during the intifada period the tragic victim of internal societal developments in France. "In the last two years, the attitude to this group has featured three characteristics," says Dayan.

"First, blocked access. I, who had been sought after for interviews, I felt that they had stopped calling on me, and my letters to the editor were no longer published. The second characteristic is tribalization, meaning, a return to tribal characteristics. When they finally agreed to print what I said, they wrote "Jew" over it. The third characteristic is criminalization - by which I mean publication of two books, and an article in Le monde diplomatique, with `lists' that include some of the best minds in France, who were denounced as reactionaries."

Dayan says this involved intellectuals like philosopher Alain Finkelkraut; author Pascal Bruckner; philosopher Pierre-Andre Taguieff, the only non-Jew on the list, who became famous among other reasons because of his work on the Holocaust; sociologist Trigano, and film director Tarnero.

And that's something new?

"Yes. It's an escalation that began last fall. In my opinion, it smacks of McCarthyism, but this McCarthyism is directed at Jews and at supporters of Israel."

Article publié sur Haaretz.com