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 Alain Ménargues:
I am a free man
and I intend to stay that way

Interview with Alain Ménargues by Silvia Cattori

Paris, November 2004

( This article in French )

The life of Alain Ménargues – vice-director of Radio France International – changed overnight in October 2004. No sooner had his book “Le mur de Sharon” (“Sharon’s Wall”) been published than he brutally found himself caught in one of those ideological campaigns where lies are mixed with the irrational. Accused of “anti-Semitism”, Alain Ménargues was dismissed from his functions. The suspicion of anti-Semitism – with all the manipulations that can follow – weighs heavily upon the heads of any public personage who criticizes Israel. It can destroy careers and ruin lives. Alain Ménargues is the most recent living proof.

Silvia Cattori: Didn’t you knowingly break a taboo by affirming that Israel is racist?

Alain Ménargues:  The texts are there. I invented nothing. The Jewish State of Israel is considered legally racist by the United Nations.

S.C. You paid dearly. Have you been affected by it?

A.M. I am resolved to fight against all those who unjustly accuse honest people. You know that for a long time I have been engaged in information in the Middle East. I know very well, from having observed it closely, how Israel exercises its control over information. Since the 1970s there exists a military information service. There is a department that occupies itself exclusively with the press. Every journalist who goes to Israel is given a press card delivered by a press service that is dependent upon the army. It is therefore obviously the army that is charged, among others, to shape the image of Israel in the world. All Israeli embassies have a public relations service, diplomats whose job it is to assure that the good image of Israel is preserved. In the affair that concerns me, the embassies of Israel in Paris and Brussels intervened. They put pressure on journalists via what we call agents of influence: in order to have it said I am anti-Semite, that is, to take away my credibility and dissuade other journalists from echoing my remarks.

S.C. Was this reported to you from a reliable source?

A.M. Yes, I can give you the proof. There are journalists who can confirm it.

S.C. How can a State intervene so openly?

A.M. It is what is called in communications manipulation. In my case, it was done in a very precise way. I represent a textbook case. With my last book, [1], I hit on a sensitive point, especially as Israel’s image is deteriorating more and more. There is a report from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dated last August, which analyses the image of Israel. This report shows that Israel has lost the world media battle. That Israel risks to be classified, very soon, in the same ranks as apartheid South Africa. My book arrived at the right moment.

S.C. Why such an outburst against you when so many things have been already written in the specialist media and on Internet sites?

A.M. I don’t have the reputation of someone who transgresses the requirements of correctly providing information. In that which concerns Israeli politics I am very rigorous in what I write. I speak of the rights of children, of women, and the abuses they suffer in regards to Israel as for other countries. Israel is not a country apart from other countries. I call, therefore, simply for the application of the resolutions of the UN, which Israel ignores. Consequently, to eliminate me, to drive me from my posts of responsibility, a post in the media, is a way of killing two birds with one stone for my detractors. I am preparing a document on this subject.

S.C. So you are not laying down your arms?

A.M. I am going to fight. I won’t let them do this to me.

S.C. Are you fighting to get back your job at RFI?

A.M. No, it is impossible to return to RFI. I am fighting to obtain justice.

S.C. Do you have a concrete project?

A.M.  Yes, we are in the process of putting together a foundation grouping together at least 100 journalists, that will have as its task to verify that those who are accused of anti-Semitism are accused for the right reasons.

S.C. Journalists who are part of editorial boards in France?

A.M. Yes, journalists who are well-known professionally in France as well as other countries. The goal is that every time a person is suspected of anti-Semitism and described as such by the media, his case would be examined by our foundation. If it happens that the person is falsely accused, we will intervene to demand that the true facts be established. A way of saying that we will no longer accept the manipulation.

S.C. Do you think you will intervene only when someone is accused of anti-Semitism or for all cases of racism?

A.M. I begin with the idea that there is in France a latent anti-Arab racism and a latent anti-Jew racism. To deny this would be dishonest. Beginning with this, there can be offshoots from one or the other part. However, in most cases, these accusations are not well-founded. We use the term anti-Semitism, as in my case, to break someone’s will, career or to cast aside those who embarrass us. So the committee that we are setting up will have as task to denounce the manipulations. As soon as an affair breaks, it will immediately be taken into account by our “committee of one hundred”.

S.C. When will you be operational?

A.M. Soon. I hope by December 2004.

S.C. Do you really think the media will follow up on your action?

A.M. Yes, I think so. I believe in the honesty of people. I have worked in this trade for thirty years. No one among my colleagues would ever have thought, before these attacks against me were unleashed, that one day I could be treated as a racist or an anti-Semite. These labels have nothing to do with my career or my concern to inform. I have friends who, like me, worked on the ground as war correspondents and who are still on the ground. All these professionals know me, know that what I say is true. They can only support me.

S.C. You didn’t expect such attacks?

A.M. In my book “Sharon’s Wall”, on page 11, I had a foreboding of what would happen to me. But not to this degree. Curiously, my book was not attacked. It is what I said during a conference that is being questioned.

S.C. Did the fact that you discussed religious questions also not help?

A.M. It is true that I work on the influence of religions in the world. In Iraq we can speak of different religious tendencies. Bush brings religion into all his declarations. But as soon as you say that Israel is what it is, a theocratic State, the shields go up. I talked about “Leviticus”, of impure and pure, that separates and that has a link with the wall. For it is a constituent element. It sufficed for me to evoke this on the radio for things to degenerate into a real fist-fight. If at the beginning the theoreticians of the Zionist state were secular, and the religious had condemned the very concept of Zionism, the religious later took an extremely important weight. Especially since 1987. All laws pass by the religious. Moreover, it is a religion that considers itself superior to any other. I feel free to speak about all religions. People of the Jewish faith speak themselves of the “chosen people”. Why shouldn’t I have the right to bring up this notion of the “chosen people”?

S.C. In continuing to speak like this, don’t you risk worsening your case?

A.M. What you are suggesting is that I be silent, that I not fight. There are people who manipulate the information in France. The daily “Liberation” assassinated me. And I should be quiet? I began my professional life in Vietnam. I traversed many difficulties. I have the habit of putting things into perspective. My affair is nothing compared to what is going on elsewhere and notably in Palestine. I am not a man of power. In an interview with the Belgian daily “Le soir”, I said that my freedom of expression was not worth several stripes on my shoulder. I am a free man and I intend to stay that way. No honours, no money, no job will prevent me from saying what I wish. When I signed my contract with RFI, there was a restrictive clause that I had removed. That I be held to be discrete on internal affairs is normal, but, for the rest, you cannot demand of a journalist that he not speak.

S.C. Were you hurt when you were forbidden to work?

A.M. Hurt isn’t the word. I am strongly irritated to see that in France there is a fundamental liberty that is in the process of disappearing. And this is a fact that can only bring to me react, to fight. In my country, that is France, I can’t imagine that there is an intellectual terrorism that forces people to shut up under pain of being completely crushed. I am outraged to observe such a thing. So, hurt personally, no. I knew that this pressure existed. But since it has happened to me, I measure all its importance.

S.C. Are you referring to these campaigns designed to whitewash Israel and to blacken the Muslim Arabs who march, especially since September 11?

A.M. Yes. I believe that this is pure manipulation in the sense of public relations. Israel was able to evolve for more than half a century under the image of victim. But this image of victim has started strongly to crumble. Especially since 1982, after the massacres of Sabra and Chatila. Since then, the heads of Israeli propaganda have been forced to finance campaigns in order to not lose their status of victim. To do this, they have used every possible public relations technique possible and imaginable. An example: while in France and the United States above all, we forbid the television networks to show cadavers, caskets, and the burial of soldiers in case of conflict, Israeli TV, when there is an attack in their country, do the opposite. Each time there is an attack in Israel, their information service broadcasts repeatedly images of blown apart corpses in order to shock and mobilize opinion. This is the technique of manipulation through the image. The Palestinians do the same thing. I don’t distinguish between the two. But in the case of Israel, these images of exploded buses, abundantly broadcast, are distributed freely to all the world’s networks. So, while here we show cadavers in a very vague way, precisely to lessen the shock, in Israel, the shock is a commentary.

S.C. How do they proceed in detail?

A.M. There is in their world of communication something extraordinary. Israel counts, in every embassy, a communication officer who intervenes systematically with the help of the agents of influence. This is what happened in my case. The Israeli embassy intervenes with some journalists to let them know that such a person is an anti-Semite and should be silenced. Here is France, the lawyer Goldnadel [2], is one of these agents of influence who act on the behalf of Israel. This lawyer reproached me for having spoken of “Leviticus” on Radio Courtoisie. “Leviticus” is the fourth book of the Torah where there is the question of pure and impure. The Torah is part of the Bible. So what prevents me from speaking about the Torah?

S.C. But to go on Radio Courtoisie, politically marked, isn’t that to open yourself to criticisms?

A.M. It is a Catholic radio station situated on the extreme right. But, when Mr. Goldnadel made his accusations, he forgot to say that he has himself gone four times on Radio Courtoisie. He is not shy to make accusations like “Ménargues talks about ‘Leviticus’ on a radio of the extreme right, therefore he is from the extreme right”. All this, which comes from mixing things up, has the precise goal of maintaining confusion. The same thing happened in Belgium when I went to promote my book. The Israeli embassy telephoned a journalist to tell him not to interview me because I was “anti-Semitic”. But, of what do they accuse me? When I talk about Zionism, I refer to Zionism as a colonial political theory, a policy that wishes to create a Jewish State for Jews in a zone that was already inhabited. To say this is not going against the truth. It is unfortunately the truth. Zionism was born in Basle in the context of colonial expansion. The world has changed its view regarding colonialism. When Sharon says that “the war of independence of 1948 is not over and that each meter gained is a gain for Israel”, it is a colonial attitude. But when people denounce this sort of affirmation they are vilified. For me, Israel is a country like any other. I don’t see why we reserve for it a special treatment. We must speak of what happens there. I say it over and over. On the airwaves of this radio association, that has a very marked connotation of the Right, all sorts of people express themselves. Mr. Philippe de Saint Robert, who questioned me for Radio Courtoisie, is a leftist Gaullist.

S.C. So those who were unleashed upon you after your appearance on Radio Coutoisie, participated in a manipulation?

A.M. Absolutely. A manipulation led above all by a man like M. Goldnadel, who had himself been interviewed several times on this radio station. Everyone can see today how we make confused associations to destroy someone. M. Goldnadel made such a mix by putting together under the same heading my name, Leviticus, Gollnish, who is number two at the Front national, the Shoah. All that with the clear intention of defaming me and sowing confusion. Among citizens of the Jewish faith, there are two worlds. Those who feel French of the Jewish faith, and those who feel first Jewish, then Israeli, and finally French. These are two totally different worlds. One must determine which has an exacerbated nationalist spirit and which considers his religion as a simple religion. There is a whole ambiguity of message and language around this question.

S.C. Why don’t more journalists describe things as they are?

A.M. Because certain of them must pay the bills at the end of the month. There are many journalists who share the same understanding of things as me. But they are not free. The bosses of the press are afraid of losing subscribers, income from advertising.

S.C. When you were let go, didn’t the attitude of the Society of Journalists [la Société des journalists) weigh against you?

A.M.  Radio France internationale is 400 journalists in Paris and 300 correspondents dispersed throughout the world. This Society of Journalists is composed of 15 people, of whom only three are active. This is what happened. I had launched a basic reform that put those who merited it in front. That bothered people’s habits. There was already a malaise.

S.C. So some profited from this to take their revenge?

A.M. As soon as I was accused of anti-Semitism, the latent discontent expressed itself.

S.C. Why do so few journalists break free of the crowd?

A.M. This gets back to what, in the media, corresponds to the “politically correct”, and which is, in reality, the expression of complete intolerance. France has fallen into intellectual intolerance. What is extraordinary is that, when we watch television, the people who incarnate the “politically correct” are the uncultivated. My grandmother said “Culture is like jam. The more we spread it around, the less we have.” We are far removed from the time when we had debates, where people confronted each other with arguments: Today we don’t confront each other. There are no more quality debates. We assist at a continuous shower of anathemas on all the television networks and in the media in general. The “politically correct” doesn’t think, doesn’t read, and has no references. Look at what happened to Dieudonné who is an artist. Was he too much or not enough of a provocateur? But isn’t provocation part of an exchange of arguments? Shouldn’t one provoke in order to get a reaction? The role of the media is not to condemn. When Tariq Ramadan develops an idea, why insult him? If we aren’t in agreement with him, engage him in a debate. But not a lynching. And what if we listened to him? That would be more constructive than to blacken him and reject him.

S.C. You are evoking figures upon whom accusations of anti-Semitism are continually showered. Is that not what awaits you?

A.M. As soon as we criticize Israel, we are accused of anti-Semitism. By accusing everyone of being anti-Semitic, you finish by rendering the term anti-Semitism banal. These excesses will finish by turning against the State of Israel and, unfortunately, against the citizens of the Jewish faith who accept all these abuses. After what I have undergone, I received thousands of emails expressing their sympathy and also their exasperation. The intolerance of one risks to make a bed of blazing hate for others. All this should make us think.

S.C. Is this intolerance maintained and is anti-Semitism exaggerated according to you?

A.M. I don’t believe in the spontaneity of the reactions. There is, from the evidence, a manipulation. Look at what has happened in France these last few months. There were acts attributed to anti-Semitism that were found to be organized by people of the Jewish faith. There is a base of anti-Semitism that is inscribed in the Christian tradition. A basis that is minimal. But, it is certain that by continuing to mobilize society nonsensically on the theme of anti-Semitism, we can not but exasperate people. These last months, we have seen Ministers go out and be moved at least four times by acts provoked against themselves by citizens of the Jewish faith who claimed to be victims. There was the case of the rabbi who stabbed himself, of the synagogue set afire by a drunken Jew. And everyone got stirred up without verifying the truthfulness of the facts.

S.C. How to put an end to these manipulations?

A.M. By reason and tolerance. One and all must better verify, better separate the true from the false and only condemn when there is reason to do so. But not as it is done now where the whole society is mobilizes a prioi around anti-Semitism. We are on a very dangerous slope. People make accusations too quickly and journalists don’t do their work of verification and explanation. This brings with it dangers.

S.C. So you attribute the responsibility on the one hand to those who raise the specter of anti-Semitism and on the other to ignorance?

A.M. Yes. And to the a-culture of journalists and opinion makers. I think there is a desire to manipulate. When Bernard-Henri Levy allows himself to fence with words to demonstrate that being anti-Zionist really means one is an anti-Semite, it is nonsense. It is false. Were anti-Gaullists anti-French? Were anti-communists anti-Slavs? This uselessly stirs up and confuses things.

S.C. Did the Ruffin Report that yet again drives in the nail of anti-Semitism surprise you?

A.M. The Ruffin Report is a scandal. We would no longer have the right to criticize one country alone, therefore we could no longer think. One thing should concern us here. The one country that has as legal parent the United Nations’ Security Council is Israel. The United Nations has voted a large number of resolutions that have never been applied. Why? Is this tolerable in a world that needs justice and stability? There is the big problem.

S.C. The more I listen to you, the more I sense your determination to react. So they have not succeeded in breaking you?

A.M. Ola là-là. No. I figure that what happened to me is just one of those things that happen [un accident de parcours]. They didn’t break me. They will not shut me up. I will continue to express myself, with the means I have, to say what I see. If I make errors, I am ready to accept all condemnations. But my remarks were never shown to be false. They condemned me because I spoke.

S.M. It didn’t get empty around you?

A.M. No, no. On the contrary. There are an enormous number of people who contacted me to ask me to continue.

S.C. Do you have any resentment regarding those who attacked you?

A.M. No, none. The media is collective. I’ll eventually get angry at the editors in chief who distributed texts without verifying the terms. Not against the journalists. They do their job the best they can. If they are manipulated, it is for them to know the limits. Those really responsible are the editors in chief.

S.C. Has what has happened to you made you pessimistic?

A.M. Not at all. There will inevitably be an evolution of things. Certainly, everything is put into place by Israel to prevent people from knowing what happens. This is what the Israeli embassies and their agents of communication or influence do: prevent the base from knowing and from intervening with their leaders. You can’t lie all the time. Israel has lost the media battle. Israel can no longer pass itself off as the victim. Israel is the aggressor. People won’t wait long before understanding who the murderers are. In spite of all the means used to smother the truth, eyewitness reports will end up by coming out. I am convinced that the political figures in Europe will end up being pushed by their base. They will be forced to take decisions the day that the people really start to move. In a democracy, as long as the people don’t move, the power won’t move.

S.C. How is it possible to have such a power over editorial boards and for such a long period of time?

A.M. By doing what they have done until now: media campaigns based upon lies. They use every means and they have the money to do it.

S.C. Do you have an example?

A.M. There is a person who edits an article that accuses someone of being “anti-Semitic”. This article is picked up by journalists who don’t verify the origin of this information. It is as simple as that. There are evidently some subjects that receive a particular echo.

S.C. But these articles, the fruits of manipulation, where do they start?

A.M. There is a non governmental organization called “Lawyers without borders” (Avocat sans frontiers). Created by Mr. Goldnadel, this NGO is a sort of illusion because there already exists in France another NGO called “Lawyers Without Borders of France” (Avocats sans frontières de France). When Mr. Goldnadel sends out an article under the name of “Lawyers Without Borders”, the journalist is not going to verify who is behind this NGO. So the name given by Mr. Goldnadel lends to confusion. Mr. Goldnadel attacks everyone for anti-Semitism. Daniel Mermet, Pascal Boniface, and many others. All the media abundantly talked about the accusations he made, but when Mr. Goldnadel lost the cases he undertook against them, the media didn’t mention it. That’s how it happens.

S.C. Do you see a possible evolution in the way of informing people?

A.M. If everyone said what they knew, the truth, we wouldn’t be there. If all journalists really did their work honestly, we could stop the flood of lies that unfold about everything that touches the Arab world. What is reassuring is that the readers and listeners are more intelligent and cultivated than those who inform them. I am discovering that with happiness in my meetings and emails I receive.

Paris, November 2004

[1] Le mur de Sharon. (Sharon’s Wall) Presse de la Renaissance, Paris, 2004.
[2] The association « Avocats sans frontières » that M. Goldnadel directs in France, goes after those who criticise it.

Translated from the French by

Mr Ménargues book won the Palestine-Hamchari Literary Prize in December 2004. The prize, created in 1979 at the initiative of the Franco-Arab Solidarity Association, bears the name of the PLO delegate, Mahmoud Hamchari, assassinated in Paris in 1972 by Mossad (the Israeli intelligence service).


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