Frankreich, die Araber und die Juden - Geschichte eines Verrats
by David Frum
In October 1980, PLO terrorists set off a car bomb near a synagogue in Paris’s rue Copernic. France’s prime minister of the day, Raymond Barre, condemned the attack. Not only had the terrorists killed two Jews but “two innocent French persons” as well.
It’s important to understand that Barre is one of the good guys of recent French political history: a free-marketeer, a tax cutter, a friend of NATO and the United States, a liberal in the fine European sense of that term. And yet somehow this fine and fair-minded man could perceive the murder of a French Jew as a lesser crime — or at least a more excusable crime — than the murder of a French non-Jew.
David Pryce-Jones reminds us of this story in his careful study of the tortured relationship between the French state and modern Israel. He tells it — and many others like it — to drive home a new and controversial thesis: French policy in the Middle East has been guided by emotion and passion at least as much as by calculation. A profound discomfort with Jews and a delusive hope with regard to France’s position in the Mediterranean have often led France to disregard its interests as a nation and the security of its citizens.
Another story: Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, aligned himself with Hitler and the Germans in World War II. He broadcast radio propaganda on behalf of the Germans and raised a division of Bosnian Muslims for the Nazi SS. At war’s end, he fled Germany to seek asylum in Switzerland. Denied entry, he was detained by French police. And what did the French do with this Nazi collaborator? Pryce-Jones tells us:
Haj Amin was housed in a villa in the Paris suburbs. With him were two secretaries and a cook supplied by the [publicly funded] Paris mosque. . . . [A French official who interviewed the mufti] approvingly . . . passed on Haj Amin’s view that France and the Arab states could easily come to an accord to settle the future of both Syria and Palestine. . . . [In Haj Amin’s view,] Britain was unable “to break loose from the influence that the Jewish world exercised on its politics.” What Haj Amin offered, [the official] reported . . . was either a “positive” collaboration, in which case he would calm the general Arab agitation concerning [French rule in] Syria, or a “negative” collaboration, in which case he would provoke crises in Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, and Transjordan, “to the benefit of our own [French] policy.”
Haj Amin was soon moved to more luxurious accommodations. He seems to have been offered money and other material benefits, including tailored clothes from Lanvin. In the spring of 1946, he was allowed to “escape” to Egypt, where he continued his negotiations with French officials. From his new home in Lebanon, the mufti instigated the murder of King Abdullah of Jordan, who had dared to seek a permanent peace with Israel after the 1948–49 war.
Helping a Nazi collaborator to provoke crises across the Middle East may seem a bizarre or even perverse way to advance French interests. But Pryce-Jones demonstrates that French foreign policy has repeatedly arrived at nearly equally perverse results in the Middle East. When Saddam Hussein banished Ayatollah Khomeini from Iraq in 1978, France welcomed the turbaned zealot. In France, the ayatollah discovered limitless freedom to agitate: As he himself later said, “We could publicize our views extensively, much more than we expected.” Pryce-Jones quotes a study by Amir Taheri that the ayatollah gave 132 radio, television, and print interviews over the four months of his stay in France. He received almost 100,000 visitors, who donated over 20 million British pounds to his cause. In February 1979, the ayatollah returned to Iran in a chartered Air France jet; an Air France pilot held his elbow as he descended the steps to the tarmac.
The connection with Khomeini ended sadly, of course, as had the affair with Haj Amin. Neither disappointment dissuaded the French state from pursuing its enduring romance with Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. After the 1967 war, it was the Arab side that adamantly refused to negotiate a permanent peace with Israel; yet France used its seat on the U.N. Security Council to press resolution after resolution blaming Israel for the persistence of the conflict. French pressure opened the way for Arafat to address the U.N. in 1974, holster on hip. France condemned the Camp David accords of 1979 for failing to include Arafat — and persuaded the European Community (as it then was) to begin direct aid to PLO-affiliated Palestinian organizations.
Through all this, French officials and the French media maintained a propaganda barrage against Israel most memorably summarized by Ambassador Daniel Bernard’s description of Israel as a “s**tty little country.”
Pryce-Jones relates this history with his characteristic literary force, but without rancor or overstatement. Pryce-Jones is a man deeply at home in France and keenly aware of the best of the French intellectual tradition. He writes with sadness and regret, not anger. As readers of NR well know, his excellence as a writer is based above all on his fineness as a man: generous, humane, and fair-minded.
If this book is painful to read, it is because the underlying story is painful to tell. Yet Pryce-Jones has steeled himself, plunged into the archives, and done his job superbly. This is an indispensable book to anyone who cares about the Middle East, France, or the democratic ideals that France through the years so eloquently championed — and alas so often shamelessly betrayed.
Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews
by David Pryce-Jones
(Encounter, 171 pp., $23.95)