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Right of reply: Conspiracy theories and Al-Dura

by Richard Landes and Philippe Karsenty 11 June 2008  




Weekly columnist Larry Derfner wrote a bizarre piece in the The Jerusalem Post on May 29. He railed against us as "conspiracy freaks" whose "pure paranoia" has us matching "Arab insanity with Jewish insanity," all because we dare to claim that the footage that Charles Enderlin presented to the world as news of real events was actually staged by his cameraman, Talal abu Rahmah. For Derfner, such claims - he fails even to distinguish between our claim that Enderlin was the dupe of his cameraman, and his claim that we think Enderlin was involved in the hoax - constitute a "demonizing" of the Palestinians and the foreign press.

The piece is heavy on crude rhetoric and light on evidence to substantiate its intemperate claims. Little in his piece makes sense other than his vehement desire to tar us as paranoid conspiracy freaks. Indeed, Derfner's only evidence comes from a five-year-old article by James Fallows that appeared long before the extensive evidence of Palestinian staging (Pallywood) and Enderlin's prevarication (there are no "death throes" that he "cut") had reached public awareness. Ultimately Derfner's argument comes down to a misconceived straw man, the same argument used by Enderlin and France2 in court:

In other words, it's a bunch of crap, all these theories that say journalist Charles Enderlin, his Palestinian cameraman, al-Dura's father, a hospital in Gaza, a hospital in Amman, the Jordanian ambassador to Israel, the UN, the Palestinian people and/or any number of other anti-Semites conspired to stage the killing of that 11-year-old boy.

LET'S BEGIN by putting the errors in this description aside: we do not accuse Enderlin or the Jordanian ambassador, or the UN, or the rest of his inflated list, of participating in the conspiracy from the start. We consider them willing dupes who "ran with the story."

Shorn of these auxiliaries, his list comes down to the following "co-conspirators": Talal, his assistants on the scene (the ones yelling "The boy is dead!" before he's even "hit"), the father and son, and the doctors in the hospital. This is hardly a difficult group to assemble; certainly nothing compared to the tens of thousands necessary for a 9-11 conspiracy or the "invention of the Holocaust."

Bystanders at the scene needed only to keep silent. Arab ambassadors, King Abdullah, and other such figures need not even know it was a fake. As for the doctors in the Amman hospital, once this story had "taken," who were they to blow the whistle on so powerful and successful a blow against Israel? Like Enderlin, even after realizing it was fake, they couldn't admit it publicly.

Anyone familiar with the evidence in this case cannot take Derfner's piece seriously, as one can see in the numerous and near-universally negative comments to his column. We invite him and the readers of the Post to visit our Web sites where we have put up the evidence and to judge for themselves. Philippe Karsenty's site is Media-Ratings, Richard Landes' two sites are The Second Draft (presentation of the evidence and argumentation), and The Augean Stables (blog with commentary and analysis).

Having viewed much of this evidence, the judges wrote:

"The accused [Karsenty]... qualifies the episode as pure fiction, which is also sustained by several important signatories from the press who viewed the rushes in October 2004; that he then exposes... the inexplicable inconsistencies and contradictions in the explanations on the agony of the child given by Charles ENDERLIN", [whom, Karsenty claims, tried to] cover this imposture. Philippe KARSENTY takes up the core of the issue with a vivacity of expression that the importance of the question under debate must, nonetheless, authorize..."

This is hardly what Derfner characterizes as "light years away" from our conclusion that Charles Enderlin initially got fooled and subsequently lied to cover his mistakes. And once one is familiar with the wide range of evidence, one has to wonder what would lead him to so intemperate and insubstantial an assault on people far more familiar with the dossier than he.

HERE WE enter strange terrain: the peculiar attachment that people who claim to empathize with the Palestinians have for this tale. Even when presented with evidence of staging, many respond, "So what if this is faked; we've killed over 800 kids in the Intifada," or as in Gideon Levy's inimitable formulation, "We've killed over 800 Muhammed al-Duras."

Considering that Muhammed al-Dura was the first of the child-murder accusations that then made all subsequent claims believable, that he became an international symbol of Israeli viciousness, of Israeli soldiers killing an innocent unarmed child "in cold blood," a modern blood libel which blamed Jews the world over, such statements are close to masochistic self-accusation.

And given that the Palestinian notion of "targeted assassination" is blowing up a place full of civilians, that their hatreds feed on such confected "lethal narratives" as al-Dura, that the world blames Israel for Palestinian hatreds on the basis of such libels, then such self-laceration seems somewhat inappropriate. As Ahad Ha'am once said in the context of late 19th-century blood libels, "It is extremely dangerous for an individual or a people to confess to crimes they have not committed."

People who scream "paranoia" often partake of the fault they project. What might Derfner's paranoia be? That if he - or anyone on the "Left" - should defend Israel by calling into question some part of the Palestinian hate/victim narrative, he would be immediately assaulted as a right-wing racist? Is that what just happened to us?

Al-Dura offers us the most extreme version of a marriage between pre-modern sadists and post-modern masochists, both of whom have less interest in what happened than in stories that justify their politics. It is testimony to a tragic post-modern development, in which the minds of "progressives" (especially Jewish ones) have been colonized by their enemy's narratives, that the denunciation of Palestinian lies somehow means a victory for the "Right."

Derfner owes his readers, and the many victims of Talal abu Rahmah's vicious hoax and Charles Enderlin's eager folly, a profound apology. (He need not apologize to us; we've been the object of far worse mudslinging over the last five years.)

In the Dreyfus Affair the term intellectual came to mean someone who, when confronted with the evidence, could change his mind. Hopefully, Derfner, and many more of those who claim to love peace, can step up to the status of intellectuals.

Philippe Karsenty, whose appeal against France2's defamation suit was just upheld in a French court, is president of Media Ratings (www.m-r.fr). Richard Landes is a professor of history at Boston University and runs the Web site www.seconddraft.org and blogs at http://www.theaugeanstables.com/


Read also: Endre Mozes Responds to Derfner | Augean Stables

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