President Trump’s alleged vulgar remark last week about the homelands of certain immigrants to America has garnered much attention and generated much outrage. Very different, notes Tom Gross, were responses to the comment of the French ambassador to Britain in 2001 when he called Israel a “sh—y little country”:
When Ambassador Daniel Bernard told guests at a dinner hosted by the writer Barbara Amiel . . . that Israel was a “sh—y little country,” some journalists rushed to his defense or even praised him. For example, an article in the Independent by one of the paper’s most prominent columnists, Deborah Orr, described Israel as “sh—y” and “little” no fewer than four times. (At the time, the Independent was winning newspaper-of-the-year awards).
The French ambassador to London is not the American president, of course. But he is nonetheless the official representative of one of the world’s most important countries: a nuclear power, one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, a G8 member, the land of égalité and fraternité and of a supposedly sophisticated ruling elite. And Bernard was not just any ambassador. He was one of then-French President Jacques Chirac’s closest confidantes, and had previously served as France’s UN ambassador. . . .
Yet when Bernard made his “sh—y” remark, the British and French press seemed to spend more time criticizing the messenger, Barbara Amiel, in whose home the remark was made, than the ambassador. Le Monde ran a front-page attack on Amiel for having had the temerity to reveal the ambassador’s comment. In the Guardian, Matt Wells denounced Amiel as “an arch-Zionist,” but had nothing but sympathy for Bernard who, he claimed “was struggling against a tide of anger from Israel.” In fact the Israeli government hadn’t made a single official comment on the matter at the time Wells’ article was published.