'The Muhammed al-Dura image instantly became an icon that altered public consciousness," says Philippe Karsenty, discussing the case that has consumed his life for the past five years. "[And] since World War II, there hasn't been such a powerful tool to fan the flames of anti-Semitism."
For anyone unfamiliar either with al-Dura or Karsenty, an abbreviated review is in order.
On September 30, 2000 - the day that became known as the start of the second intifada - France 2 TV broadcast footage of a shootout in Gaza, zooming in on a Palestinian father and his 12-year-old son taking cover behind a concrete drum, allegedly to no avail. According to the report - filmed by a Palestinian stringer for the state-run French network - the boy, Muhammed al-Dura, was killed by IDF bullets.
What ensued was a dispute that has yet to be fully resolved.
The Israeli defense establishment called the incident "unfortunate," with different spokesmen saying different things about which bullets in the "crossfire" had been responsible for the boy's death.
The Palestinian Authority referred to it as murder, and its own state-run media hailed al-Dura as a martyr.
Left-wing groups at home and abroad pointed to it as evidence of Israeli brutality against the Palestinians.
Right-wing groups used it as an example of Israel-bashing.
There were even a number of people who began to claim that al-Dura not only wasn't killed by Israeli bullets, but that the whole episode had been staged by the cameraman. The boy, they continue to claim, was not dead at the end of the France 2 film.
ENTER KARSENTY. A couple of years after the famous footage was first aired, the French-Jewish businessman and founder of a watchdog Web site called "Media-Ratings" [www.M-R.fr], published a scathing attack of France 2 and its Jerusalem correspondent, Charles Enderlin, accusing them of deception. Their response was to sue Karsenty for slander. A French court ruled in their favor.
Karsenty appealed, and a verdict is expected in the spring.
In the meantime, Karsenty, a 41-year-old married father of two, is on the move and as busy as ever presenting his findings and sticking steadfastly to his assertions about the al-Dura video. In Israel this week to address the three-day International Journalists' Conference held in Eilat, Karsenty is continuing on to the United States, where he will lecture at different venues, among them the Harvard Law School.
During an hour-long interview in Tel Aviv on Monday, Karsenty explained - in completely fluent English - why he has devoted so much of his time, energy and money on the al-Dura affair, stressing what he sees as its greater significance: "It has become the reason in people's minds for why Israel has to be destroyed."
Why, after all these years, is the campaign to disprove the Muhammed al-Dura story still going strong? Hasn't everybody had enough of it already?
You, in Israel, don't realize how important Muhammed al-Dura is. His image is everywhere and in every mind. Ask any Muslim in the world - or even non-Muslim by now - who he is, and they will say, "Oh, Muhammed al-Dura! The Israelis murdered that young boy."
Why do you think that Israelis are not aware of this?
When you live in a country in which 80 percent of the people are Jewish, you don't know what anti-Semitism is. You are insulated. You do not have pictures of Muhammed al-Dura posted everywhere. Nor do you have the kind of experiences people outside of Israel have. For example, the day after the footage of Muhammed al-Dura was aired, I went to my office - at that time, I had a software company - and one of my employees came up to me and asked in an accusatory tone, "What were you doing in Gaza yesterday?"
I answered, "I wasn't in Gaza yesterday."
He said, "No, I mean your army."
I said, "What? The French army was in Gaza yesterday?"
He said, "No, the Israeli army."
There have been many cases of Palestinians accusing Israel of atrocities, and garnering the support of people all over the world. What made you get so passionate about and personally involved in this particular one?
You have to understand that the al-Dura image instantly became an icon that altered public consciousness. My sister, for example, moved from Paris to Boston in 1999. When she returned in 2001 - just before 9/11 - she said to me: "What has happened to this country since I left? Everybody has become so anti-Semitic." She was responding to the fact that when you read the papers, listen to the radio or watch TV, what you are told is that the Israelis are like Nazis, with a Nazi-like army.
There has never been an image as powerful as that of al-Dura in the history of Israel. Since World War II, there hasn't been such a powerful tool to fan the flames of anti-Semitism. And anyone who sees the light has the responsibility to share it. The Jews have always been the people of emet [here he used the Hebrew word for truth].
Unfortunately, neither the IDF nor the Israeli Foreign Ministry has done its job counteracting the lies.
One image is stronger than a zillion words. And this particular image has become a symbol - a brand-name - like Coca-Cola. Muhammed al-Dura is everywhere.
He's not the only Palestinian to have been killed in a cross-fire.
According to the Palestinian version of events, al-Dura wasn't killed in a crossfire; the IDF shot at him for 45 minutes without let-up. This in itself, of course, is completely ridiculous, because if it took an Israeli soldier 45 minutes to hit a fixed target, he wouldn't be a very good soldier - which would mean Israel's deterrence was really low.
For 60 years, the Arabs have been lying about Israel. There was Sabra and Shatila, for example, and the Jenin "massacre"- which, of course was a hoax, but you didn't have any pictures of it. You couldn't put the images on a tee-shirt.
If we allow the al-Dura story to go on unchecked, it will become the new Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Over the past seven years, many Jews have died because of the al-Dura image. If we don't correct it, Jews will continue to die as a result of it. It has become the reason in people's minds for why Israel has to be destroyed.
Are you saying that if the al-Dura image is "corrected," Jews won't continue to die and that others won't think Israel has to be destroyed? Can't new images always emerge?
It's like bathing. You don't take a shower once and be done with it. Each time you get dirty, you have to take another shower. It's the same with Israel. Every time you are slandered, you have to clear your name again. It's your job to defend yourself.
You talk about peace, and run to Annapolis. But who would want to make peace with a country perceived to kill children? Wake up, my friends. If you're really interested in peace, cleanse the brains of your enemies. Make them understand that you don't kill children for sport. Eliminate the blood libels against you.
Can Jews really counteract blood libels? Clearing one's name requires rationality on the part of one's critics. Doesn't anti-Semitism exist outside of rational discourse?
In France, anti-Semites are interested in the al-Dura case precisely because it feeds what they already feel. If such people really cared about the Arabs, they would be happy to discover that a Palestinian boy didn't die at the hands of Israeli soldiers. But no. They continue to fight to defend the death of a child.
The image of al-Dura doesn't tell you what's on the video. Your attitude towards the image tells you who you are. Jews are fighting the worst enemy of the western world: radical Islam and those who side with it. Israel is seen by them as an island of the West among Muslim lands. If people in the West, such as the French, would only understand that by inciting against the Jews, they are harming their own societies, they might change their mind about doing it.
You say that the al-Dura image is being used to vilify Israel. How do you explain, then, the film clips on PA TV [distributed by Itamar Marcus's Palestinian Media Watch] showing a young actor portraying Muhammed al-Dura living it up in Paradise and calling on other Palestinian children to join him? In other words, they are using his image as a positive reinforcement for martyrdom.
Who are the people saying it's a good thing to be a martyr - all those jihadist leaders? But notice that they aren't sending out
their own children to be martyrs.
[Here he opens his laptop and shows me photos from different places in the Arab world - among them Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia - where the name of Muhammed al-Dura, along with the famous picture of him and his father, on postage stamps, plazas, and even on the dress of a beauty pageant contestant.]
If this image is so widespread that it is the basis of street names and on stamps, isn't it too late to erase it?
No. It's not too late. But we'll need to enlist the help of [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy. I knew him well. I ran against him in the parliament five years ago, and we had a good relationship.
You and he have similar ideologies, don't you?
I don't have an ideology. He and I have a similar pragmatism.
Three years ago, I went to him and said, "Nicolas, I'm being unfairly sued by France 2. Can you help me?"
And he said, "Look, Philippe, I'm only a minister. But when I'm president, I'll do something to solve this case."
Well, now he's president. And, as president, he is the owner of France 2, which is a state-run TV channel. So, he will have to decide whether to stick to the state's version or not. He's always saying that he's against anti-Semitism and that he loves Israel and America. Well, he can prove it. He's got to take the images and have them analyzed by forensic and ballistic experts and decide whether they're true or not.
If he determines they're fake, he has to have France 2 announce this on prime time television and have them apologize. Then French diplomats have to go to every country where there are Muhammed al-Dura squares and schools and streets and suggest they be removed. This is important for the global war against radical Islam, because it's always the same lies feeding the same hate.
If the verdict ends up being in your favor, will you countersue?
We'll see. It really depends on the attitude of France and France 2. If they apologize to the world, I probably wouldn't sue.
But the reason I'm in the middle of this legal battle altogether is because they sued me after I accused them of fraud. [on his Web site, Media Ratings, www.M-R.fr].
Has this struggle on behalf of Israel's reputation brought you closer to Israel?
No. In fact, it has had the opposite effect. Watching Israel refuse to clear its name on this case - which is widening the rift between the Jewish state and the Diaspora - has made me angry and frustrated.
Don't get me wrong. I love the Israeli people; they're wonderful. But most of the time, whenever I have to deal with Israeli officials - ambassadors in particular - I'm disappointed. One notable exception was [former Israeli ambassador to Sweden] Zvi Mazel - the "unplugger." [He is referring to Mazel's having pulled out the plug of an electrically operated art exhibit in Sweden glorifying a female suicide bomber]. He was a real diplomat defending his country, not just enjoying gala dinners. Israel needs more diplomats like him.
Another exception is Government Press Office director Danny Seaman - a decent and brave man who held his ground in the face of France 2, and who works for the good of Israel and its future.
What was dinner table conversation in France like during the Second War in Lebanon?
The buzz word was "disproportionate." [He is referring to Israel's being accused of having used disproportionate force against Hizbullah targets.] Since then, that term has become like a code word. At a dinner party, you can be talking about anything - say, the next presidential election - and someone will inevitably say, "Your statement is disproportionate." In the French political sphere, that is a euphemism for, "You're a dirty Jew."
What Israeli diplomats don't realize is that the French only respect strength, while they have contempt for those who don't stick up for themselves. That's why they tend to favor all the bad states, such as Iran.
Do you think there's a difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism?
Oh yes, they are very, very different. Anti-Semites are frank; anti-Zionists are hypocritical. They hate Jews and have found a way to be anti-Semitic without admitting to it.
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