Chirac and Mahathir: Update and Retraction

Remember Jacques Chirac’s intervention in support of Mahathir Mohammed’s anti-Semitic rantings? The one condemned here, as throughout the blogosphere? Well, it seems not to have happened.

The story appears to be as follows. After Mahathir Mohammed’s speech at the OIC summit, it was proposed that a condemnation be inserted in the final report of a meeting of EU chiefs of state. But EU procedures don’t provide for such statements in those reports. Instead, a statement was made, on behalf of the EU, in a formal address by Silvio Berlusconi, who holds the rotating presidency. (The irony of a politician elected with neofascist support denouncing someone else for anti-Semitism was, one assumes, passed over in decent silence.)

But newspaper reports suggesting that Chirac had somehow supported Mahathir Mohammed by suggesting that the condemnation be part of the Berlusconi address rather than the conference report were immediately seized on by Israeli politicians, who have good reason to be annoyed at Chirac on other grounds, and by some Jews in the U.S. including professional kvetch Abraham Foxman of the ADL. That gave the Maylasian prime minister the opportunity, which he quickly seized, to pretend that Chirac was supporting his views.

However, Chirac (unlike another G8 Chief of State I can think of, who waited longer to speak out and chose to hide behind a spokesman in issuing a rather tepid statement that the remarks in question were “divisive and wrong,”) wrote a prompt and fairly tough letter to Mahathir Mohammed, telling him that his remarks had “attracted strong disapproval, not only in France but throughout the world,” and telling him that despite his government’s rejection of claims of anti-Semitism, he remarks “could not but be condemned by those who preserve the memory of the Holocaust.”

The Israeli government either has become convinced that the whole thing was a misunderstanding or is willing to pretend that it was. The Israeli Ambassador to France said:

“President Chirac did nothing to torpedo a European decision condemning this hateful, anti-Semitic remarks by the Malaysian prime minister, that must be completely clear.”

Daily Forward story

Ha’aretz story

I was perfectly willing to believe that Chirac had acted badly (again) and to condemn him for so doing. (I compared him to Bush, which is about as tough as it gets around here.) And it’s possible that Chirac really was willing to tolerate Malaysian intolerance: that the procedural issue was a pretext, and his lettter to Mahathir Mohammed a reaction to the hot water in which Chirac found himself.

But it seems more likely that the whole flap was born of a misunderstanding, and then seized on by people who just wanted to make Chirac look bad. Unless someone has something in the way of actual evidence that the original story was right, I think everyone who reported this story the first time around (even rather obliquely, as I did) ought to publish a full retraction now.

Update Mahathir Mohammed is calling Bush a liar, denying that the private rebuke Bush’s spokesman claimed that the Presdient made was ever actually spoken.

Whether true or false, this is an intolerable affront; if Bush chose to spare himself and the Malaysian leader the embarrassment of a face-to-face rebuke, Mahathir Mohammed should have quit while he was ahead. Now that he has spat squarely in the President’s face, can we hope to hear a real denunciation of Mahathir Mohammed from Bush in person, with some stronger language than “divisive”?

More Mahathir Mohammed is keeping it up, now asserting that Bush, far from rebuking him, explained to him apologetically the necessity for having his National Security Adviser and press secretary use language critical of the Malaysian premier’s rantings. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were partly true, but it hardly matters now: Bush has been personally insulted, and it’s up to him to speak out if he’s not prepared to give this tinpot tyrant the last word.

Second update A reader objects that the above is unfair to Berlusconi: Italian neo-fascists have renounced anti-semitism, at least verbally. This seems to be a balanced account. I’m unimpressed, but your mileage may vary.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: