France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

March 31, 2008

Hope of deliverance or, Pride in the name of love

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 10:04 am

Usually when French commentators discuss the politics, society, or international actions of my country I do a lot of grimacing, usually because I’m embarrassed or ashamed, but sometimes because the commentary is erroneous or even hypocritical. When this happens, it often concerns race, and throwing stones. (En française approximitif: Faut pas que ceux-ci qui habitent en maisons de verre jeté les pierres.) This morning, however, listening to the France Culture morning crew’s eloge to Barack Obama’s speech on race and the fundamental change of current it represents with specialist Pap Ndiaye, I felt shared pride as well as “They get it.” We’re changing — or at least we have the potential to change — and it’s being noted. Abroad. Because you see, the French are actually not inclined to dislike us — au contraire! They just need us to give them (to quote Earth Wind & Fire) reasons. And above all they need us to show some humility — a change from ‘we’re the best we know best we always do right you’re with us or you’re against us.’ As soon as they see us recognize a problem, admit that we have work to do, they are pulling for us. (En français, plus ou moin, ‘ils sont pret a nous soutien.’)

The link to Dr. King’s dream of an America that would move past the racial divide — Obama’s picking up a ball that had been shoved into a corner for 40 years — was also crystal clear to the French interlocutors. As was the fact that, as Mr. Ndiaye pointed out, “All the effort of Hilary Clinton has been to racialize the campaign, to make of Obama a Black candidate for the Blacks.”

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March 29, 2008

China speaks, Democracy folds

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 12:10 pm

How did the Greek government react to the interruption of the opening torch-passing ceremonies by the French organization Reporters sans Frontiers, which was simply calling for freedom of speech to be respected in Chinese-occupied Tibet? By banning reporters from today’s ceremonial handing of the torch to China in the Acropolis — the birthplace of Democracy. Only official photos will be allowed. The Revolution will not be Televised.

March 28, 2008

Sex, lies, and videotapes

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 11:55 am

I had less of a problem with Bill Clinton’s lying about his sex life than the mainstream media’s being more concerned with this than the lies of George Bush, which have had mortal consequences. But now, as some in the European press are pointing out today, it’s becoming apparent that for the Clintons, lying is a mode of political life. Thus, as the video has now confirmed, Hilary’s attempt to claim defense experience by way of dodging bullets in Bosnia is a fabrication of circumstances. But I would go further. Far from being a woman of courage who braved indiscriminate sniper bullets herself, her cowardly vote to support the Bush lies that enabled the U.S. to invade Iraq has helped put millions of Iraqis (and American soldiers) in the way of of indiscriminate or at least barely discriminate bombings and fusillades.

March 26, 2008

En passant au passé

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 8:45 am

As you may have gathered, I’ve been taking a lot of my inspiration — if not pilfering complete ideas! — from France Culture’s morning program. If there’s one host, and one special guest, there’s also a melange of chroniclers every morning to keep the program vivant even when the guest comes from a dry sector, such as philosophy. Typically, and unfortunately, all the regular daily chroniclers are men. The women seemed to be relegated to something called ‘carte blanche,’ with the spot rotating each day, with the inevitable result that no single one of them has the force of presence that comes from daily exposure.

I didn’t think today’s guest would give me anything special to write about, or rather, unique — Saul Friedlander holding forth on the Holocaust. (An important topic, but what could I add that hasn’t already been said?) Yet there it was, almost in passing, in the roundtable that terminates the program in its last half hour, in which all the commentators pile on. No serious discussion of the shoah can be held without consideration of complicity, particularly in France. Responding to Friedlander’s noting that he had passed the Occupation hidden in France, Catherine Clement, the carte blanche commentator du jour, said that she had lucked out because born of a Jewish father and a Christian mother, in 1939, she’d been baptized; that her grandparents were among those Jews whose incredulity that this could actually be happening sealed their fates; and that — here’s the startling part — French anti-Semitism didn’t stop in 1945, when no one could deny the camps and the complicity of many French in sending their Jews to them. In 1950, she said, a school chum’s parents forbade their child from playing with her — because she was Jewish.

March 25, 2008

Planete Interdite

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 7:37 am

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought of the mock sign which was going around a couple of  years ago, “Interdite a interdire.” But the topic re-surfaced yesterday. The new targets of those who would interdit: Kids at bullfights, toreadors in the classroom, adoption for those older than 45 (comme moi) and protesting against China.

As reported yesterday by Olivier Duhamel, a commentator on France Culture’s morning program,  the French education minister, Xavier Darcos, wants to forbid kids from going to bull-fights and toreodors from extolling their virtues before schoolchildren. And M. Colomboni, ousted from the top spot at Le Monde last year, now seems intent on returning to the headlines by proposing, in his capacity as head of a commission studying adoption, that there cannot be more than 45  years between the age of the adopted and the youngest parent.

Meanwhile,  a supposedly Socialist senator, appearing on today’s morning program, chastised Robert Menard, the audacious director of Reporters  Sans Frontiers, for doing what he himself should be doing and refusing to stay silent in the face of the culturicide China is perpetrating on Tibet. Apparently, Monsieur le parliamentaire would have preferred that M. le Journaliste refrained from unfurling a banner calling for Tibet’s freedom during yesterday’s opening ceremonies of the Olympic torch passing; he doesn’t think it’s the work of a journalist. No — it’s the devoir of a politician.

March 17, 2008

It’s the economy, stupid

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 8:20 am

The debate in France over last night’s municipal election results, which (loser, in Pau) François Bayrou correctly characterized as a “tidal wave from the Left” has largely focused on whether the results should be read nationally, and thus as a rebuke of the right-wing government of Nicolas Sarkozy, or locally. But it seems to me that, as Socialist Party premiere secretary François Holland has pointed out, the two over-riding factors in determining the electorate’s disillusionment with the Right are the loss in purchase power — and Sarkozy’s effectively excusing himself from any responsibility for same, after having campaigned as the president of purchase power — and an almost personal rejection of Sarkozy himself and his manner of governing. Or to put it another way — and anticipate the misreadings that we’re about to hear on the BBC — it’s less about fear of change than loss of change. (Petite note de traduction pour mes lecteurs françaises: En anglais, le mot ‘change’ a une double sense: C’est aussi a dire ‘monnaie’ ou monnaie aux poches ou monnaie au porte-monnaie.)

March 14, 2008

The one-sided debate

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 9:23 am
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I begin this morning incredibly disillusioned. For the past two days, France Culture’s morning radio program, the mix of commentary and news to which I’ve been addicted since August, has conducted a charade of a debate on the call by some to boycott this year’s Salon du Livre because Israel is the guest of honor. Yesterday, which also marked the opening of the salon by Israeli president Shimon Peres — demolishing, as I wrote previously, the argument of the anti-boycott forces that this event is apart from politics — the program featured a Palestinian scholar, Sari Nusselbeh, whose point of view on the question is milktoasty at best. Asked if he supported the boycott, he demurred from offering an opinion, saying only that the question could have been avoided if France had not invited Israel in the first place.

Having thus offered neutral instead of ‘yes on the boycott’ yesterday, the program today piled on the boycott supporters — *with no one* standing in to speak in its favor. It was almost parenthetically that the host delivered the startling news that a prominent Israeli literary figure, Benny Zephir the ltierary editor of Ha’Aretz, supported the boycott because for this supposedly non-political event, the Israeli government had declared that only Israelis writing in Hebrew would be considered. Arabs or at least Arabic writers — never mind if they’re Isaeli citizens — need not apply; so much for the much-vaunted sole democracy in the Middle East. But the program went further than simply excluding the Other’s point of view; they misrepresented it: Peres was quoted as opening the salon with the warning that ‘book-burning’ is a threat to liberty. I’ve been following the boycott campaign pretty closely; who’s talking about book-burning? The hypocritical sanctimony continued to mount through the end of the program, with the featured Israeli author, David Grossman warning that the boycott will just lead to catastrophe because one must have dialog. How can one preach dialog in an echo chamber?

If you sense my bitterness, it’s because, if there’s been one raison d’etre of this journal it’s been to demonstrate, or at least reflect on, the differences in the American and French way of seeing things. How disappointing to discover that when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian question, not all sides are equal.

March 13, 2008

To boycott or not to boycott

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 9:41 am

It seems to me that hand-in-hand with the just condemnation of violent Palestinian response to Israeli occupation should go the encouragement of non-violent methods of resistance. And yet when Palestinian activists and their supporters propose a cultural boycott of Israel, Western libertarians get up on their high horses and castigate them for being against freedom of expression. Take the polemics surrounding the Salon du livre in Paris, which this year has decided to honor Israel, which is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its founding — no cause of celebration for the Palestinians whose familes were forcefully evicted from land they’d occupied for centuries.

The argument of boycott opponents that politics should be separated from a literary event like this is effectively demolished by the fact that tonight’s opening will be inaugurated by Israeli president Shimon Peres, sharing the podium with French cluture minister Christine Albanel.

As a sort of sop to Palestinians, France Culture this morning featured as its guest of honor the Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds, the Arab University of Jerusalem, and author with Anthony David of “Once Upon a Country: a Palestinian Life” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007). Asked about the boycott, Nusseibeh had a diplomatic response but terminated by simply stating that the issue could have been avoided by France simply not making Israel the guest of honor. I think a better solution — and one that would have promoted real dialog, not the fake interchange defended by the opponents of the boycott — would have been to make both Israel and Palestine the guests of honor. Instead, we were treated with the embarrassing moment where France Culture’s morning host terminated the interview with Nusseibeh by suggesting he check out the Salon du livre. “After all, it’s open to the public.”

Discussing the Palestinian point of view, Nusseibeh shared that he had once asked his mother, who because many of her relatives are among the dispossessed Palestinian diaspora is very bitter towards the Israelis, what she would have done if in the 1930s, a rabbi came to Palestine, knocked on her door, explained what was happening to the Jews of Europe and asked if they could return to Palestine. His mother looked at him shocked and said, “Of course I would have welcomed them.” He concluded by pointing out that one of the problems is that Israel has never recognized that by installing itself in Palestine it inflicted pain on Palestinians.

No one is denying the pain inflicted on Jews during the Shoah nor Israelis by rockets fired and bombs exploded by Palestinians. The problem is that there is not equivalence — Palestinian pain is not accorded equal value to Israeli pain. It seems to me that reconciliation on a local or global scale needs to start with a mutual recognition of the worth of the other’s pain.

For more on the the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, click here.

March 12, 2008

Monsieur Mou, a.k.a. Professor Tournesol, a.k.a. François Bayrou, mon heros

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 11:33 am
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Like Anne Frank, France is a little bundle of contradictions. Thus on the one hand, on Sunday night one could see a black turtle-necked Olivier Besancenot, the 33-year-old leader of the League Communist Revolutionaire, sitting around the roundtable with the mainstream political suits on TF1 television’s coverage of the municipal election returns, something one would never see in the United States, where even the Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich was sometimes excluded from televised debates and other candidates are routinely excluded because they haven’t collected enough money. On the other hand, if the French understand political extremes, they don’t know quite what to do with the so-called Center.

When the Bearnais François Bayrou claimed this mantle in last year’s presidential election, despite initial enthusiasm he was eventually shouted down by politicians from the Right and the Left who easily convinced the public that he was ‘mou,’ or soft — neither on the Left nor the Right, therefore wishy-washy. Yet in fact, if one studied his positions, what Bayrou offered and offers is not mushyness but freedom from ideology; rather than consult an ideological compas before rendering an opinion, he looks at the situation based on the facts. Thus, when youths rioted at the Gare du Nord after police tried to arrest a man without papers, the Right-wing candidate instinctively blamed the youths, the Socialist candidate hesitated for fear of being labeled soft on crime, and only Bayrou talked common sense: “This is what happens when young people don’t trust the police.”

More recently, the number one issue in France these days is the diminished pouvoir d’achat or purchase power. (Milk at my local grocery store has gone from 63 cents a liter to 96 in seven months.) After candidate Nicolas Sarkozy promised to be the president of the pouvoir d’achat, President Nicolas Sarkozy flippantly announced, “The cash box is empty — what do you expect me to do?” Worse, his own motto in campaigning for the effective reversal of the 35-hour-work week in the form of supplemental hours — ‘travail plus pour gagne plus’ or work more to earn more — has effectively been subverted by his finance minister to ‘if prices are up, you just need to work more.’ Enter Mr. Bayrou, who revealed how direly existential the situation is when, grimacing as a t.v. interviewer asked him about the pouvoir d’achat, he corrected the interviewer, “It’s not really the pouvoir d’achat, it’s the fin de mois,’ meaning there are households who arrive at the end of the month unable to pay their bills.

Now the commentators are confused because in the wake of Sunday’s elections and ahead of this Sunday’s final round, Bayrou’s Modem party is allying itself with the Right in some towns, the Left in others, and no one in still others, including Pau, where Bayrou, who finished second to the Socialist candidate in the first round, has refused to combine forces with the third place right-wing UMP for the final. Analyzing this approach in short-hand, one commentator said Bayrou is either Professor Tournesol or a visionary. Tournesol — English-speakers know him as Professor Calculus — is of course the hard of hearing character from the Tintin series. I would reverse the analogy.

March 11, 2008

Relativity

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 6:42 pm

Sometimes I just want to hide under my covers. In the last three days, one American leader, George Bush, has actually vetoed a law which would have prohibited the CIA — the American Intelligence Service — from drowning and otherwise torturing people. Autrement dit, he essentially said, “We can torture people if we want to.” And Republican Senator John McCain — who was tortured in Vietnam and who wants to succeed Bush — says it’s okay by him. Another American leader, New York governor Eliot Spitzer, has been told by by the State’s Republican leaders that he has 48 hours to get out of town — because he hired a prostitute. Otherwise he’ll be impeached.

Bush advocates torture, and no one’s impeaching him. Eliot Spitzer, who has done a lot of good chiefly in cracking down on Wall Street greed and malfeasance, is being hounded out of office because he hired a prostitute.

My country.

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