The French president repeatedly says he will fight antisemitism. He cannot be forgiven for endorsing the nasty Stéphane Hessel as a national icon.
Last Sunday, March 17, François Hollande, the socialist president of France, attended in person the ceremonies held in Toulouse for the first anniversary of what is now commonly refered to as the « Mohamed Merah affair ».
On March 11 last year, Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent who had joined an islamist network and been trained in Pakistan, killed a French soldier in Toulouse, the capital of the Midi-Pyrenees region. On March 15, he shot three more soldiers in Montauban, another city in Midi-Pyrenees : two died on the spot ; the third one was severely wounded at the head and survived only as quadraplegic. Finally, on March 19, Merah killed three preteen children and one adult at Otzar Hatorah, a school in Toulouse.
The terrorist had selected his nine victims out of sheer jihadist logic, as he himself boosted shortly before being shot by the security forces. The four soldiers were either of North African or West Indian origin, and thus guilty of « betraying » their Muslim or non-Caucasian brethren by joining the « enemy » French army. As for the children and the aldult at the Otzar Hatorah school, they were Jewish, and thus « enemies » of the Muslim Palestinian people and the Muslim Word Community.
Since his election in June last year, Hollande has constantly put emphasis on the Merah affair and more specifically to its eery antisemitic aspect. On July 22, 2012 – the French National Memorial Day of the Holocaust and of Racist Persecutions – he drew a parallel between the murder of Jewish children by Merah and the deportation and mass murder of Jewish children. On November 1st – the Day of the Dead in French culture -, he attended a memorial ceremony in Toulouse, together with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli premier. His March 17 visit to Toulouse was the third public instance for him to express his concern about these matters.
But how much can Hollande be trusted ? What he may have achieved and still attempts to achieve in that respect has suffered a blow when he decided, earlier this month, to bestow state honors to Hessel, a former dipomat who passed away on February 27 at the age of 95. The ceremony was held on March 7 at the Invalides compound, France’s Memorial of War in central Paris (where Napoleon’s Tomb is also located). Moreover, the president attented the ceremony – and delivered a eulogy.
Invalides honors are usually intended for war heroes and other people with outstanding war records. Was that the case with Hessel ?
Indeed, Hessel had fought in World War Two and joined the Free French in London. He had been missioned to occupied France, arrested, tortured and sent to a concentration camp in Germany. However, thousands of French men or women who had done as much as Hessel during or after the war, or much more, had been buried with just a few flags and some music at local cemeteries – at best.
Hessel himself admitted that he had not been able to withstand torture at the hands of the Germans in 1944, and had passed some information. One may or may not take a lenient view of that. Still there is a crucial difference between breaking and not breaking under torture, or committing suicide rather than talking.
In fact, Invalides honors were decided for an other reason altogether : Hessel had become over the last decade a national icon of sorts – the last national icon affordable to a collapsing France. And he had supported Hollande.
The president, whose popularity is plumetting (37 % only of the French are happy with his administration by now), decided to recapture some of Hessel’s prestige to his own profit. But the troubling point is that the old man had been behaving, in some respects, as the exact opposite of what he had been, or had been supposed to be, as an young man. And that his final iconic status owed more, perversely, to such latter indignity than on any earlier achievement.
In an interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published on January 21, 2011, Hessel remarked: « If I may risk a daring parallel with matters I am involved with, I’ll say this : the German occupation (of France) was, if one is to compare it, for instance, with the current occupation of Palestine by Israelis, a rather mild one, excepted for some unusual facts like arrests, internment, executions, or the looting of works of art. »
It was nasty enough to draw a parallel between Israel and Nazi Germany. But Hessel was going even further there : he was largely exonerating the Nazis from most of the crimes they had committed in France.
Under normal circumstances, his moral standing as a former Resistance fighter and death camp inmate would have been finished with such a statement. However, circumstances are not normal any more in France or in the world ; and Hessel’s was allowed to go on parading until his very last day.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung interview was not an isolated incident. Since 1996, Hessel, who enjoyed much popularity at French talkshows as an elegant octogenarian and then nonagenarian, got more and more involved in radical politics of all sorts. From « antiglobalism » to anti-Israel campaigning.
This behavior culminated with Indignez-Vous ! (Time for Outrage!), a very short (32 pages) and very cheap (three euros) political brochure published by the end of 2010 that sold one million copies in the first ten weeks, 1.5 million in the first year, and finally 4 million copies in a bit more than two years (including translations).
While ostensibly devoted to the plight of the « new poor » in the post-Cold War world, Time for Outrage ! dealt at length with the Palestinian issue, or rather with the absolute Evil known as Israel. As an implicit admission that anti-Israel hatred and antisemitism are now essential and powerful components of Leftwing radical politics, Time for Outrage ! was an inspiration for the Occupy Wall Street movement, itself infested with antisemitic inuendo.
Why did Hollande, as a declared friend of the Jewish people and an enemy of antisemitism, endorse Hessel any fashion ? How come he did not grasp that turning a propagandist of anti-Israel hatred into a national hero would only fuel anti-Israel hatred and by implication lethal antisemitism, like what was seen in the Merah affair ?
And did not the president realize, at any rate, that Hessel’s overblown iconic may soon burst ? Guy Fellous, the former secretary general of the French National Consultative Committee on Human Rights, befriended Hessel, a member of the Comittee, in the 1990’s. According to him, Hessel, erstwhile 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 (CFP), the government-owned press agency of France, 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 ; or 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. Let me quote him 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. 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.
© Michel Gurfinkiel & PJMedia, 2013