Philippe Karsenty, a former stockbroker, was elected deputy mayor of Neuilly, France, in 2008 (where President Sarkozy was formerly mayor). Most of his time is currently dedicated to combating the "al-Dura hoax": in 2000, France 2 television showed a Palestinian boy, 12-year old Mohammed al-Dura, being killed by Israeli soldiers during a gun battle in Gaza, sparking widespread anti-Israel hysteria. Doubting the veracity of the tape, Mr. Karsenty spent several years exposing how the network had broadcast staged footage of the alleged killing. France 2 sued him for libel, but Mr. Karsenty succeeded at the appeals level and had the lower court judgment overturned in May 2008. The network has appealed the decision to France's highest court. On October 12, Mr. Karsenty addressed the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia on his struggle against the al-Dura hoax.
Mr. Karsenty began by providing some cultural background, including Europe's traditional bias against Israel. He characterized the situation as a "need to demonize Israel" in order to force concessions from the Israeli government to its enemies. Next, Mr. Karsenty offered his audience a glimpse at some of the controversial footage, indicating the discrepancies that caught not only his eye, but also the attention of the researchers and scientists who first discovered the hoax. Yet, despite the evidence, lamented Mr. Karsenty, broadcaster Charles Enderlin strongly maintains the veracity of the footage as broadcast.
During the question-and-answer period, some asked about the curious reluctance of Israeli officials to take a proactive approach in debunking the hoax. Mr. Karsenty believes that part of the answer lies in the Israeli government's concern that, by pursuing the matter, the Sarkozy government may become isolated. Another question regarding the relationship of the media and the French government illustrated why the matter is not as simple as one might expect, considering that the latter subsidizes much of the former. Regardless, Mr. Karsenty ruled out the notion that the French government was maintaining the hoax because it feared further alienating its Muslim population, which, he argued, has no voice in the media anyway.
Mr. Karsenty suggests that the significance of the al-Dura affair is that it served as the starting point in the new campaign to delegitimize Israel. Indeed, because the hoax has not yet been properly debunked, Mohamed al-Dura's image continues to feature prominently in Arab and Muslim propaganda. At one point, Mr. Karsenty argued that "you cannot live in a democracy when the media are lying." The only antidote, then, is to fight back with the truth—as he has been doing.
Summary written by MEF intern Sean Alexander