vibrations of a dinner in London almost a month ago ripple on. In
Newsday, former New York mayor Ed Koch demands, no less, that all
supporters of Israel "should boycott French wine, cheese, perfume
and clothing, as well as refuse to visit France as tourists."
For how long? "Until the French government recalls its ambassador
to Britain, and either cashiers or demotes him." Yesterday,
a prominent (and, coincidentally, also titled) British woman
rich, philanthropic, Jewish, thunderously articulate in a
private visit with my wife and me reported on the British "affaire
Bernard." Two questions are raised: 1) Did the remark of the
French ambassador to London at the dinner party of Conrad Black
(Lord Black) amount to de facto anti-Semitism? And 2) Did the journalist
who published his remarks violate decorum? Add to the mix that the
incident was reported by journalist Barbara Amiel, who in real life
is Lady Black; and that her husband was the host of the party and
that the column was published in the newspaper he owns.
all my personal conflicts in talking about the subject, let me record
that my five closest friends in the entire world are my informant
at lunch, Barbara Amiel, Conrad Black, Ed Koch, and Ronald Reagan.
Now to proceed with the story.
At the dinner
party in December, French Ambassador Daniel Bernard, in a discussion
of Mideast policies with neighbors at his table, remarked that after
all, Israel was a "sh-tt- little country," no larger in
area than two French departments, causing him to wonder "why
should the world be in danger of World War III because of those
in shock, though one wonders whether the pain was greater because
of this sign of apparent anti-Semitism, or because of the perceived
violation of protocol in reporting it.
For days the
French embassy said nothing, but finally rejected completely any
suggestion that M. Bernard was anti-Semitic, whatever he actually
said, denying that he had used vulgar language. A complication in
understanding the episode stems from the unfortunate fact that Monsieur
Bernard is a teetotaler, forfeiting him the shelter of alcoholic
hyperbole. But then tension increased hugely upon the report, also
by journalist Amiel, that another British society leader, "doyenne
of London's political salon scene" at a private lunch (what
isa private lunch in London these days?) "made a remark
that she couldn't stand Jews and everything happening to them was
their own fault. When this was greeted with a shocked silence, she
chided her guests on what she assumed was their hypocrisy. 'Oh come
on,' she said, 'you all feel like that.'"
lady was identified as the wife of Charles Powell, also a lord,
sometime secretary to prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and a business
man of affairs in the Mideast. Everybody on that flank denied everything.
Our own British
visitor, inquisitive about American reaction to the affair, cited
Ambassador Bernard's defense that what was said had to be taken
in context. If his point was as simple as that world wars should
not be risked over small territorial disputes, the observation is
not indisputably animated by anti-Semitism, inasmuch as the point
could be made about Taiwan, or Singapore, or East Timor. Is there
the explanation that the ambassador was simply letting off steam,
even if unfueled by wine? Or, as Amiel believes, do we have here
an expression of latent hostility by the French government to Jews
and their entire enterprise in Israel?
a couple of years ago described almost parenthetically the America
First Committee as "pro-Nazi." I protested. "You,
dear Edward, make life truly impossible for those who try to keep
things straight when you level such charges." On the subject
of Israel and indeed anti-Semitism, the problem is always there,
to think reasonably. But it is reasonable to suppose that the French
ambassador was indeed letting off anti-Semitic sentiments, reasonable
to argue that journalist Amiel should have yielded to the protocols
of hostess Black, yet reasonable to conclude that the entire episode
is a contribution to informed thought about what is going on in
the minds of the governing classes in England and France.