Late August. The night of the Champions League final. All of France is glued to the screen to watch Paris Saint-Germain make its first ever appearance in the European club tournament final (which it will end up losing to Bayern Munich).
Popular French comedian Nicolas Bedos gets bored and posts this to his 175,000 Instagram followers: “On certain evenings, when you don’t like soccer, you get a better idea of what it feels like to be a Palestinian in Deauville.” Translation: Deauville is a chic resort in Normandy, one that Parisian Jews also like to frequent. Thus, Bedos decided that a generic Palestinian would feel unwelcome there.
A comedian is not expected to be an expert in geopolitics, of course, but he might be expected to be sensitive to humor’s effect on the social fabric. For two decades or more, France has been afflicted by a “new” wave of antisemitism that blends the old delusions about rich Jews who control the world with the tensions between France’s Arab and Jewish communities.
After a lengthy period of denial and confusion, the French authorities are now earnestly trying to combat the ugly trend – which has also turned lethal – but are struggling to stamp it out.
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It’s against this backdrop that the 41-year-old comedian’s “joke” operates, containing two assumptions. First, that upscale Deauville is full of Jews. Second, a Palestinian would not feel comfortable in a place where there are French Jews. This may be a familiar comic mechanism – creating that fish-out-of-water feeling by placing the object of the joke in an unlikely environment – but in this case Bedos drew on two very common antisemitic myths.
The first, a direct offspring of the “old” antisemitism, reinforces the equation of Jews with money as it implies that the fancy coastal town is inundated with Jews. The second, the rotten fruit of the “new” antisemitism, turns Jews into pseudo-Israelis and presumes that they despise Palestinians – or at the very least make them feel unwelcome, even in Normandy.
The ensuing fuss prompted Bedos not only to excoriate Jewish journalist Bernard Abouaf of Radio Shalom, who pointed out the problematic aspects of the “joke,” but also to publish a lengthy response on the website of CRIF (the umbrella organization of French Jewry). The articulate response did not include an apology, not even an “If anyone was offended, then…” Instead, it attacked anyone who didn’t get his humor.
It’s too bad Bedos didn’t read Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1946 essay “Antisemite and Jew” before penning his letter. The French philosopher described how pre-Holocaust Western society accepted antisemitism as utterly normal: “A man may be a good father and a good husband, a conscientious citizen, highly cultivated, philanthropic and in addition an antisemite. He may like fishing and the pleasures of love, may be tolerant in matters of religion, full of generous ideas regarding the state of the natives in central Africa and in addition detest the Jews” (translation: George J. Becker, Schocken Books, New York). So, to paraphrase Sartre, one may also tell a bad joke about Jews and still be a popular comedian.
And while the French comedian would do well to read Sartre, let’s also hope Israelis will learn something from this sorry tale aside from the fact that antisemitism is far from disappearing. After all, in France, this unfortunate statement was at least cloaked as a summer evening “joke.” Here, a popular television presenter speaks without hesitation on his morning show about “the Arabs’ permanent state of fury.” In Israel, it’s not even a joke, just a sad reality.