Even though he has resigned from the Knesset earlier this year. Natan Sharansky has been very involved in Israel’s government behind the scenes. In fact I would not be surprised to find out it was he that coaxed the government into finally declaring the al-Dura libel a hoax. Sharansky comes at the Issue from a very different perspective. In 1978 the Soviet Union trumped up charges of treason and spying for the United States and sentenced him to 13 years of forced labor.After 16 months of incarceration in Lefortovo prison he was sent to a Siberian Gulag Perm 35 where he served for nine years. The libel against Sharansky and his imprisonment focused the world’s attention on the horrors of the USSR. When the libel of the French media is exposed in a French courtroom, hopefully it will do the same for the media injustice toward Israel…I doubt it but we can always hope. The following article by Natan Sharansky appears in today’s Wall Street Journal. Hat Tip-Yael at Boker Tov Boulder
Palestinian Propaganda Coup
By NATAN SHARANSKY
Last month, a French court heard an appeals case whose forthcoming verdict will have far-reaching ramifications for all who value truth and accuracy in Middle East news reporting. The case involves Philippe Karsenty, a French journalist and media commentator, who was found guilty of defamation after he called for the firing of two France 2 Television journalists responsible for the Sept. 30, 2000, news report on the alleged killing of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammed al-Dura, by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
The tape fanned the flames of what became known as the second intifada. The boy Mohammed was the iconic martyr, his name and face gracing streets, parks and postage stamps across the Arab world. His memory was invoked by Osama bin Laden in a jihadist screed against America, and in the ghastly video of the beheading of American Jewish journalist, Daniel Pearl.
Shortly following the al-Dura incident, however, a series of inquiries cast grave doubt on the accuracy of the original France 2 report. The official IDF investigation concluded that, based on the position of IDF forces vis-à-vis the Duras, it was highly improbable, if not impossible, that an Israeli bullet hit the boy. Research by the Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic and Commentary magazine concurred. Then a German documentary revealed inconsistencies and probable manipulations in the account of France 2’s lone journalist on the scene that day, Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahmeh.
And yet France 2 refused to release Abu Rahmeh’s full 27 minutes of raw footage. It did, however, agree to let three prominent French journalists view the footage. All three concluded that it comprised blatantly staged scenes of Palestinians being shot by Israeli forces, and that France 2’s Jerusalem Bureau Chief Charles Enderlin had lied to conceal that fact.
Subsequently, alleging gross malfeasance, Mr. Karsenty called for the firings of Mr. Enderlin and France 2 News Director Arlette Chabot. But France 2 stood defiant, suing Mr. Karsenty for defamation.
The defamation trial passed almost unnoticed in Israel, to the apparent detriment of Mr. Karsenty’s case. In his ruling in favor of France 2, judge Joël Boyer five times cited the absence of any official Israeli support for Mr. Karsenty’s claims as indication of their speciousness.
Israel’s decision to stay on the sidelines was unfortunate because the truth always matters. The al-Dura incident wasn’t the only media report to inflame passions against Israel in recent years, but it was the one with the highest profile. Moreover, if, as Mr. Karsenty and others have claimed persuasively, the al-Dura incident is part of the insidious trend in which Western media outlets allow themselves to be manipulated by dishonest and politically motivated sources (recall the Jenin “massacre” that never was, or the doctored Reuters photos from Israel’s war against Hezbollah in 2006), then France 2 must be held accountable.
It is important to note that the al-Dura news report profoundly influenced Western public opinion. When I served in the Israeli government as minister of Diaspora Affairs from 2003 to 2005, I traveled frequently to North American college campuses. I heard first hand how Mohammed al-Dura had shaped the perceptions of young people just beginning to follow events in the Middle East. For many Jewish students, the incident was a stain of dishonor that called into question their support for Israel. For anti-Israel students, the story reaffirmed their sense of Zionism’s innately “racist” nature and became a tool for recruiting campus peers to the cause.
To its credit, Israel has come to recognize that it must play an active role in uncovering the truth. The IDF recently sent a letter to France 2 demanding the release of Talal Abu Rahmeh’s 27 minutes of raw footage, asserting the implausibility of IDF guilt for the death of Mohammad al-Dura, and raising the possibility that the entire affair may have been staged.
Tragically, there is no way to repair the damage inflicted on Israel’s international image by the France 2 report, much less restore the Israeli and Jewish victims whose lives were exacted as vengeance. It is possible, however, to deter slanderous news reporting — and the violence that often accompanies it — by setting a precedent for media accountability via the handover of Talal Abu Rahmeh’s full 27 minutes of raw footage. Encouragingly, the judge presiding over Mr. Karsenty’s appeal has now requested the tapes. France 2 must make a full public disclosure. If there is nothing to hide, why should it refuse?
Mr. Sharansky is chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.