Al-Ahram WeeklySpecial pages commemorating
50 years of Arab dispossession
since the creation of the
State of Israel
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

50 Years


Swimming against the Seine

It was a great 50th birthday party for Israel in France, writes Hosni Abdel-Rahim*, where anti-Zionism is now tantamount to anti-Semitism
The huge posters are everywhere, all bearing the Star of David and inviting the reader to "come with us to dance, sing, laugh and weep". Where? To a free party at the Paris Trocadéro on Thursday 30 April 1990, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the State of Israel.

Open a newspaper, and you'll find a special dedicated section or supplement. Not all of them are as objective as the eight-page insert in Le Monde, which was not afraid to deal with the inherent contradiction of the Israeli state -- between its supposedly democratic nature and its systematic discrimination against its Arab citizens, or between the socialist-Zionist values of its founding fathers and the free-market militaristic creed of today. Elsewhere, the mainstream media was entirely devoted to uncritical congratulations.

At the Trocadéro in Paris
Israeli Ambassador Avi Pazner (centre), flanked by Jaques Chirac and Lionel Jospin at the festival celebraiting the founding of Israel at the Trocadéro in Paris, on 30 April

Why this extraordinary bias? The 50th anniversary party follows in the wake of the widely-publicised trials of Roger Garaudy and Maurice Papon. For a whole year, these two court cases have monopolised public consciousness. Garaudy's book, and the Abbé Pierre's solidarity with its author, aroused fears of a return to traditional anti-Semitic Catholic values, while Papon's trial reminded the French of the Vichy government's collaboration with the Nazis and played on their sense of guilt. As a result, it is now more or less impossible in France to question the achievements -- even less the existence -- of the state of Israel.

Those who do are immediately tarred with the same brush as Garaudy and Papon, even if they don't share a single one of their ideas, and even if they clearly see Papon for what he is -- a fascist bureaucrat who sent Jews to Auschwitz in much the same spirit as he later in 1961 ordered the murder of hundreds of Algerian immigrants who supported the FLN.

Nevertheless, some French Arabs together with a handful of progressive French intellectuals are trying to organise an alternative 'celebration', to commemorate "Fifty Years of the Occupation of Palestine by the Zionists". They have got up a petition in support of the right of return for Palestinians from the diaspora, and have organised a number of events aimed at exposing the aggressive and militaristic nature of the Israeli state. They are also trying to distribute two documentaries about the Palestinian refugee camps, but not surprisingly, finding buyers is proving hard.

The average French citizen has little sympathy for the Arabs, whom he thinks of as mainly poor immigrants and terrorists. Those who attempt to redress the balance are swimming against the tide of opinion, though a number of French intellectuals, especially Daniel Bensaid and Pierre Bourdieu, have been actively engaged in this campaign. Perhaps the participation of such respected figures, who are well-known for their anti-racist and anti-discriminatory positions, may help. But whatever they can do will only ever be a drop in an ocean of pro-Israeli sentiment.

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