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How Le Monde, ‘The Paper Everyone Reads,’ Discusses Israel and the Palestinians



Le Monde is the paper read by the French elite. It was founded in 1944 by the distinguished journalist Hubert Beuve-Méry at the behest of Charles De Gaulle. For a long time it deserved its reputation, for the excellence of its reporting and the elevated language (langue soutenue) in which it was written. But starting in the 1960s, it began its gradual leftwing turn in tone and content. De Gaulle himself, who had pushed for Le Monde’s creation, had deeply resented both the U.S. and the U.K. for having, in his view, paid insufficient attention both to him and to the interests of France. It was Churchill and FDR who met with Stalin in Tehran in 1943, to discuss the conduct of the war; it was again Churchill and FDR who met with Stalin at Yalta in the Crimea in 1945, to discuss how to manage .....war world. De Gaulle was not invited to attend either conference. The Gaullist anti-Americanism metamorphosed into leftwing anti-Americanism in the pages of Le Monde.

The paper, for example, did not see Fidel Castro as a Soviet ally and threat, but as an admirable revolutionary, whom the Americans were wrong to mistrust. Later, Le Monde would thunder against American intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the invasion of Grenada and the support for Chile’s General Pinochet. The paper not only opposed the Vietnam War but began to treat the United States as a threat to, rather than as an ally of, France. A reflexive anti-Americanism was on display as well, not in favor of the troglodytes who ruled the Soviet Union, but on the side of the Third World, set against the advanced West. This “Third-Worldism” – “tiersmondisme” – then took still another form, with Le Monde favoring the Iranian revolution, interpreting it as dealing a blow for the impoverished Iranian masses against the U.S.-backed Shah. For years Le Monde’s correspondent in Iran, Eric Rouleau, churned out reports hiding the regime’s record of mass arrests, torture, and murders of dissidents, and praising the theocrats for their ascetic ways, so different from the Shah’s extravagance that was on vivid display during the celebrations at Persepolis of the 2,500-Year Anniversary of the Persian Empire. 

Le Monde also took the side of Muslims in the Lebanese Civil War. But most revealing was how any semblance of neutrality went out the window as Le Monde’s reporters and editors took the side of the Arabs against Israel, seen as a “white, colonialist state backed by the U.S.” that had been dominating the inoffensive Palestinian Arabs, who merely were engaged in a “national liberation struggle” against their Israeli oppressor.

When the Christian-Muslim civil war broke out in Lebanon, Le Monde had no sympathy for the Christians. This want of sympathy infuriated the French playwright Eugene Ionesco, who scathingly described, without naming, the unfair treatment of the Lebanese Christians by “the paper that everyone reads.” And “everyone” knew he meant by that Le Monde, the favored paper of the intellectuals and the haute bourgeoisie. 

When Khomeini came to power, Le Monde was quick to embrace his revolution. For years, Le Monde’s Iran correspondent was Eric Rouleau, who found much to praise, and little to criticize, in the barbarous theocratic regime founded by Khomeini.

I read the September issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, which appears monthly, to see how it covers Israel and the Palestinians. As it happens, the main story this month was “Palestine, de la colonisation à l’apartheid.” The author is Alain Gresh, who is also the director of Le Monde Diplomatique, specializes in Israel and the Palestinians. No mincing of words: Palestine has in Le Monde‘s view been “colonized” by Israeli “settlers,” who now have imposed an apartheid system. Here’s how that report begins: “More than thirty years after the Oslo Accords, the two-state solution has a slim chance of succeeding. While the Gaza Strip is subject to an implacable blockade, in the West Bank the difficulties endured by the [Palestinian] people, who are subject to segregation, only keep getting worse. While the Palestinian leadership is in disarray, the Palestinian people themselves refuse to bend.”

Gresh continues:

From now on, with the new laws against the BDS Movement, and the distorted definitions of anti-Zionism that attempt to liken it to antisemitism, support from the U.S. and Europe has now been lost by the Palestinians.

Gresh applies the word “apartheid” to Israel matter-of-factly, as if no one could possibly describe it otherwise. But you could, and I could. Unlike Alain Gresh, we know that there is no “apartheid” being practiced in Israel. Arabs serve in the Knesset, sit on the Supreme Court, go abroad as ambassadors. The head of Israel’s largest bank, the Bank Leumi, is an Arab. Jews and Arabs study in the same universities, work in the same offices, laboratories, and factories. Jewish and Arab patients are treated in the same hospitals by Jewish and Arab medical personnel. Jews and Arabs play in the same orchestras and on the same sports teams.An Arab is the captain of Israel’s national soccer team. The only difference in their treatment is that Jews must, while Arabs may, serve in the military. Gresh has not done his homework, but prefers lazily to repeat the now-fashionable calumny about “apartheid Israel.”

Gresh goes on to describe what might happen in the future: “will the Palestinians be reduced to being cooped up on reservations like the American Indians” and “made to dance the ‘dabka’ [an Arab dance] for tourists in search of the exotic?” Not only is his grasp of the Israel-Palestine most imperfect, but clearly Gresh knows very little about the native Americans; he believes, apparently, that they are “required” to live on reservations.

He continues his tale of Palestinian woe:

Never, since the Israeli-Arab war of 1967, have the Palestinians been politically, diplomatically, and socially in such a desperate condition as they are today.

But who has caused their desperation? Their leaders refused even to discuss generous offers made to them by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert. It is the P.A.’s decision to continue with its “Pay-For-Slay” program that has caused Israel to withhold the transfer of tax moneys the Jewish state collects for the P.A. It was Hamas’ choice to spend so much money — billions — on 150,000 missiles and on terror tunnels in Gaza.

Gersh refers to the “expulsion of hundreds of thousands” of Arab refugees in 1948, apparently unaware that most of those people left because they had been urged to do so by their own leaders, who told them to leave so that they would not be caught in the middle of the fighting, and who assured them that after the certain Arab victory, they could soon return home with the victorious Arab armies. That was not to be. The tiny Jewish state beat back the armies of five Arab states. And has Gresh forgotten that some Israelis, like the Mayor of Haifa, tried to convince Arabs not to flee, but to remain in Israel?

Gresh brings up the Palestinian terrorism, but not to deplore it. There have been thousands of such attacks over the decades. Gresh writes, more in sorrow, that these attack have not managed to halt or slow down Israel’s inexorable ascension. He quotes favorably Jerome Lindon, the director of the publishing house Editions de Minuit: “Why should the Palestinians observe the rules of the game for modern warfare, that only the settled nations can exploit to their advantage?” The Palestinians have no choice but to use terrorism. What else can they do? Who can blame them? 

Gresh continues: “One begins to understand, even in Europe at the official level, that ‘terrorism is not a sickness but the symptom of political blockage.’” In other words, terrorism should be understood as the desperate act of a desperate people, who have no other way of making war against a powerful state. Thus does Gresh make excuses for, even justifies, Palestinian terrorism.

Gresh describes the Israeli bombardments of the PLO in Beirut in 1982, as aveugle – that is, these were “blind” bombardments by Israeli artillery, tank fire, and airstrikes, that wantonly struck civilians. But that is false. Israel did not fire “blindly,” but took great care, whatever weapons it used, to minimize civilian casualties, as it has always done. Gresh then mentions Ariel Sharon as being responsible for “the massacres of Sabra and Chatila,” when, as everyone knows, Sharon was unaware that the Christian Phalange soldiers who entered those camps would kill so many of its civilian inhabitants, as revenge for the PLO massacre of Christian villagers at Damour and, more recently, for the killing of the Christian leader Bashir Gemayel just two days before.

Gresh repeatedly mentions the PLO’s acceptance of a “two-state solution,” with Israel and Paletstine living peacefally side by side. But he neglects to mention that twice the Palestinians have been offered such deals by Israel, with generous territorial concessions offered first by Ehud Barak to Yassir Arafat, and then by Ehud Olmert to Mahmoud Abbas. In both cases, the Palestinian leaders didn’t even stay to discuss these offers; they simply walked away. The only ”two-state solution” the Palestinians at this point might accept is a return by Israel to the 1949 armistice lines, which were never recognized borders, and that would require Israel to be squeezed back within the “lines of Auschwitz” (as Abba Eban called the 1949 armistice lines), with a nine-mile waist from Qalqilya to the sea. Such a return to the armistice lines would only whet, not sate, Arab appetites, and be a prescription for another war of survival by the Jewish state.

Gresh quotes favorably the French orientalist Maxime Rodinson, “himself a Jew,” Gresh is careful to add, who wrote just after the war of 1967 that “the creation of Israel on Palestinian land is the end-point of a long process that fits perfectly as part of the enormous expansion of Europe and America in the 19th and 20th centuries to populate and dominate other peoples economically and politically.” So Israel is seen as a colonial power, no different from British and French empire-builders, appropriating Palestinian land just the way that the U.K. took over land in India or Kenya. But Israel did not seize land. It bought land in Eretz Israel, where the Jewish people had lived for 3,000 years, paying high prices to Arab and Turkish landowners, many of them living as absentee landlords in Amman and Istanbul. Israel is not a colonial power. It is not the Palestinians, but the Jews who were the original inhabitants, the indigenous people, of the land the Romans renamed as “Palestine” in an attempt to efface that long-standing Jewish connection to the land. Not a single Muslim was in the Land of Israel until the late seventh century, at least 1600 years after the Jews had been living there. 

Gresh cannot fathom the American support for Israel. The case against the Jewish state as a colonial power is to him so obvious. He claims that the war launched by he West against “Islamic terrorism” has unfairly harmed the Palestinian cause.” “Unfairly”? When the Palestinians themselves constantly justify their war against the Jews by reference to the Qur’an, when they too, like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic state, encourage and reward Allahu-akbaring terrorists? Hamas and Islamic Jihad are suffused with the ideology of Islam, and so, too, are the supposed “moderates” of the P.A., which meretriciously presents itself as deploring terrorism even as it uses its “Pay for Slay” program to reward past, and incentivize future, terrorists. And the P.A. continues to name streets, schools, squares after such terrorists as Dalal Mughrabi, and puts up their posters on city walls, thereby holding the worst terrorists up for admiration and emulation by young Palestinians.

Here is how Alain Gresh ends his “dossier” on Israel and the Palestinians:

It would be a vain exercise to minimize the seriousness of the challenges the Palestinians now face. They do, however, have some assets, and in addition the support of a worldwide solidarity movement [BDS] larger than any since the liberation struggles of Vietnam and South Africa. Despite all the attempts to push them out of their own territory, they still represent half the population of historic Palestine and now possess the political experience, and a determination forged in exile, or under the occupation, that has endowed them with the unshakable national consciousness confirmed by their revolt in May 2021, from Jerusalem to Gaza, from Haifa to Jenin, all across historic Palestine. Obstinate in their resistance, they refuse to capitulate. If the goal of war is, as Carl von Clausewitz wrote, “to make your enemy carry out your will,” at least in that respect, Israel has failed.

In fact, Israel goes from strength to strength. It has not given in to Palestinian demands to negotiate on the basis of the “1967 lines.” That is out of the question. Its economy is booming, with dozens of Israeli “unicorns” – companies with a valuation of more than a billion dollars – springing up, with many being acquired by American companies eager to exploit Israeli brains. Every major high tech company in America now has offices in Israel. The Israelis are increasing their business deals with their four fellow members — the U.A.E., Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan — of the Abraham Accords; Morocco has agreed to buy $500 million worth of weapons from Israel. The U.A.E. has already signed, during the first eight months of 2022, more than $1.4 billion worth of deals with the Jewish state, in technology, agriculture, security, tourism. Meanwhile, the Palestinians must endure unemployment rates of 26% in the West Bank and 40% in Gaza. The only thing that prevents total collapse of the Palestinian economy is the money that the 200,000 Palestinians working in Israel every day now bring home. 

The Palestinians are no longer the cynosure of Arab attention. Their fellow Arabs have decided to drastically cut their support for the Palestinians, having been fed up with Palestinian ingratitude and constant whining for more aid. Of the 22 Arab states, only Algeria has not cut its aid to the Palestinians. The rest of the Arabs, have slashed their aid by 85% in 2020, now have cut it even more, both to UNRWA and to the P.A. The UAE, for example, gave UNRWA $53 million in 2018 and $51 million in 2019, but a mere $1 million in 2020, and nothing in 2021.

Gresh makes no mention of this telling abandonment of the Palestinians by the Arabs. Nor does he bring up the lords of misrule, both in Hamas and in the P.A., who have stolen so much of the Palestinian aid money for themselves. Just two Hamas leaders, Khaled Meshaal and Mousa Abu Marzouk, have each amassed fortunes of $2.5 billion – money stolen from the foreign aid intended for all the Palestinians. Mahmoud Abbas of the P.A. is also no slouch; he has accumulated, along with his sons Tarek and Yasser, a family fortune of $400 million. Hamas in Gaza, and the P.A. in the West Bank both rule with iron fists; they brook no dissent. Their methods were illustrated last year when Mahmoud Abbas ordered his goons to silence Nizar Banat, who posted devastating criticisms of Abbas’ corruption and mismanagement on social media. Those goons beat him to death. And when other Palestinians protested Banat’s death, they too were beaten – not to death but into submission — by Abbas’ security forces. Abbas, like the men of Hamas, is a despot who can’t be deposed and refuses to go; he hasn’t held an election since 2005, and is now in the 17th year of his four-year term. Eighty percent of the Palestinians on the West Bank want Abbas to leave office. 

Alain Gresh, a true believer in what Bat Ye’or has called the cult of Palestinianism, mentions none of this. He alludes vaguely to “difficulties” in the PA’s leadership, but without more. And this is the man who is in charge of providing the French elite with reports on Israel and the Palestinians – endlessly wicked Israelis, endlessly tormented Palestinians.

I thought you’d like to know what the French elite are being fed about the Jewish state and the Palestinians. 

Fortunately, you and I don’t have to read Alain Gresh or, indeed, any part of Le Monde from now on..We now know quite enough about “the paper everyone reads.”