British Jews and pro-Israel campaigners are calling on France’s ambassador here to resign after the envoy allegedly used an expletive to describe Israel.
The president of Labor Friends of Israel, a lobbying group, was among the most vocal in insisting that Ambassador Daniel Bernard quit over the incident.
“If he said this he should resign immediately, and I am writing to President Jacques Chirac to demand that if he does not resign, then he should be sacked,” legislator Gwyneth Dunwoody, the group’s president, said.
Bernard is alleged to have referred to Israel as “that shitty little country” at a private dinner party last week at the home of Conrad Black, owner of the Jerusalem Post and Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper. Black’s wife, journalist Barbara Amiel, reported the conversation — without naming the envoy — in a Telegraph column the next day.
“Why should the world be in danger of World War III because of those people?” she quoted Bernard as saying.
Another paper quickly identified Bernard, a confidant of the French president, as the ambassador in question.
Even in Europe, which many consider to have a pro-Arab and anti-Israel bias, France is considered one of the countries most critical of Israel.
After first denying that Bernard had made the remark, a spokesman for the French Embassy later said Bernard had been misquoted.
“The ambassador referred to ‘little Israel’ in the sense that it is geographically small,” spokesman Yves Charpentier said. “He was saying that the problem was incredibly limited geographically but that nevertheless the repercussions around the world are tremendous.”
That does not explain the scatalogical reference, however.
Charpentier said Bernard does not plan to apologize.
“He doesn’t feel that there is any need for him to do so,” Charpentier said.
British Jewish leaders were outraged by the incident.
“If that is what he said, then he is not a diplomat,” said Lord Janner, chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust. “If that is the view he holds, he is not fit to be the French ambassador.”
Stuart Polak, director of the Conservative Friends of Israel lobby group, called the remarks “abhorrent.”
The Board of Deputies, the umbrella organization that represents most British Jews, expressed “grave concern.”
Ra’anan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, was extremely critical of the remark.
“I don’t know if he said it, but if he did, it’s a pure anti-Semitic expression,” Gissin said.
An Israeli diplomatic source told JTA that the remark was “regrettable,” but that Israel considered the matter to be between Bernard and the French Foreign Ministry.
“We know that what he said is not French policy,” said the source, who asked not to be named.
British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said Bernard should not be recalled over the incident.
“I think he’s learned his lesson,” Sacks said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.