Though Israeli “journalist” Zvika Klein’s Paris “walk on the wild side” through allegedly Muslim Paris neighborhoods aroused indignation in Israeli and western media, the story aroused skepticism in French media. The French publication Les Inrocks published an investigative piece and interview with Klein which undermined many of the claims and assumptions on which his video was based. Thanks to reader Deir Yassin for bringing the article to my attention.
As I noted in an earlier post, Klein claims he walked through Paris for “ten hours,” yet the entire video is 1:36. Almost half of the video shows him walking with no interaction with anyone (let alone being insulted). So there is less than one minute of negative interaction with Parisian Muslims.
At one point, Klein claims a woman spat at him. Yet you cannot see what he claims on the video itself. He admits in his NRG article that he also was accompanied by a “security guard” because of “tense conditions” in the city. One wonders if Klein half expected or hoped that he would be attacked by an Islamist in order to get a really good story.
In an interview with Les Inrocks, Klein claims to have walked through the 23rd Arrondissement. There are only 20 in Paris. He also claims he walked through Barbes in the Parisian suburbs when it’s in the city center. He claimed he was constantly harassed in Saracelles, but one-third of this neighborhood is itself Jewish. Apparently, Jewish residents have figured out a way to live with their Muslim neighbors.
The Les Inrocks reporter who wrote the story interviewed Klein. The interview was conducted in English, since he doesn’t speak French. Klein told him “a friend” translated the purported French slurs. We know nothing about who did the translations, what his background was, his level of knowledge of French, etc. Several French speakers have told me after listening repeatedly to the audio, that they can’t hear the comments purported in the captions. This raises further concerns about the authenticity of this entire project.
As you read him, Klein’s fear and racist assumptions about Paris’ Muslims becomes ever clearer:
At times, it feels like wandering around Ramallah. Most of the women wore veils and hijabs and the men had distinctively Muslim faces. Arabic was heard everywhere…I would be lying if I didn’t say I was frightened.
Klein’s own video puts the lie to his claims about the dress of women he passed. In only one short section are the heads of women covered at all and no women wear veils in all the video footage he displays. In fact, the veil (burqa) is legally prohibited in France. A French reader who walks in Paris daily says the last time she saw anyone wearing a veil was months ago. As for “distinctively Muslim faces” you can see many such faces in Israel, and they are the faces of Mizrahi Jews, not Muslims.
As for Ramallah, I doubt Klein knows anything about the place, since it’s one of the more secular of Palestinian cities. If he ever visited it, it’s been a very long time since he did. There are Israeli Jews who live in Ramallah and actually know it. But Klein isn’t one of them.
The French reader mentioned above lives in the 19th Arrondissement, a popular new neighborhood where Orthodox Jews have flocked since they were driven out of the Marais by gentrification. She sees scores of kippot each day on the streets and in the Metro. Apparently these French Jews don’t face the problems Klein found.
Not to mention that if you walk certain streets in Israel and the West Bank you will see even worse behavior. In Jerusalem, Haredi Jews spit at priests walking the streets of the Old City and spray graffiti on church buildings. In Hebron, settlers spit and throw rocks at Palestinian residents of the city. What’s the difference? Will Klein don a keffiyeh and walk the streets of Tapuach and Yizhar, particularly extremist Israeli settlements and report back on his reception there?
The Les Inrocks article also displays a tweet Klein published during Operation Protective Edge in which he quotes Meir Habib, a member of the French legislature who represents overseas French voters in Israel. Habib is also the former Likud Party spokesperson in France.
French MP Meyer Habib to http://t.co/d74z3ZV2BU: “Unfortunatley [sic], I don’t think there is a future for Jews in France”.
— Zvika Klein (@ZvikaKlein) January 10, 2015
Read the interview Klein published with Habib in NRG. None of the quotations he included in the article have Habib saying what he claimed in the tweet. At no time does he say there is no future for Jews in France. And even if he did, Habib is little more than a Likud appointee dutifully representing the views of his master, the Israeli prime minister, who’s called publicly for all Jews to leave not just France, but all of Europe. I asked Klein to explain the discrepancy, but he hasn’t responded.
Klein’s foray into the heart of the Paris’ Muslim beast is an extension of the Robert Spencer fake “No-Go” claims about UK cities like Birmingham. The truth is that there are no No-Go neighborhoods in any European city where Jews may not walk without being in fear of their lives. If you create a provocation and act suspiciously as Klein did taking a cameraman and security guard with him into such a neighborhood, then of course you will arouse suspicion. And why wouldn’t you?
The French publication also researched Klein’s background, job history, and previous social media activity. Earlier in his career, he served in the IDF spokesman’s unit responsible for outreach to the Orthodox community. After that, he did similar work for Bnai Akiva, the Orthodox Zionist youth organization. You’ll remember that the world leader of B’nai Akiva, Rabbi Noam Perel, urged the IDF to avenge the kidnap-murder of three Israeli youth by collecting the foreskins of 300 Palestinians, just as David had offered 200 Philistines foreskins as a bride price to King Saul for his daughter. That should tell you quite a bit about Klein’s own views of “Arabs.”
After the Charlie Hebdo attack, Klein prominently featured this tweet from the French Jewish Defense League, which echoed Netanyahu’s call for all French Jews to abandon France and make aliya:
— Zvika Klein (@ZvikaKlein) January 7, 2015
Consider also this distinguished part of Klein’s journalistic oeuvre: a profile of an American motorcycle gang, Defenders of Liberty, which boasts on its Facebook page that it will demonstrate in Washington in favor of Bibi Netanyahu’s speech.
Unfortunately, The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, a normally careful, thoughtful foreign policy analyst whose work I admire, took the video as authentic. But in this matter, he was too credulous. He wrote a piece which treated Klein’s video as authentic and quoted widely from Klein’s accompanying article in Makor Rishon. This is what happens when fake journalism becomes amplified by the mainstream. And all the more reason for serious journalists to exercise due diligence before accepting the word of untested sources like Klein. Friedersdorf may’ve been directed to it by his fellow Atlantic colleague, Jeffrey Goldberg. I wrote Friedersdorf and sent him links to my posts, which I hope he will read and respond to appropriately.
On a related subject, the leader of a distinguished French Jewish organization fighting anti-Semitism has roundly condemned Netanyahu’s pandering to French Jews. This is a translation by Walid of an article in Le Figaro:
In an interview of Alain Jakubowicz, the President of the International League Against Racism and Antisemitism by Le Figaro, he said Jews in France have a future there since they have a past and that he has asked Netanyahu to stop encouraging French Jews to return to Israel. Jakubowicz said that it was to be expected for Israeli leaders to do it but that Netanyahu’s repeated calls to do so are devastating. There is a way that this should be asked but the way Netanyahu is doing it is menacing and cataclysmic. Netanyahu conveys to French Jews that they are second class citizens that their country can no longer protect.
Jakubowicz went on to say that Netanyahu is re-asserting that Jews have dual loyalties and that they aren’t really French, which feeds anti-Semitism. He also said that the reunification of all the world’s Jews in Israel to create a village worthy of Asterix would be a disaster for the world and for the Jews. It is often thought there is an exodus of French Jews, which is an exaggeration. In fact, thousands have chosen to go to Israel and elsewhere; some of these had problems living their Judaism according to the Torah in neighbourhoods of a secular society, but this is not an exodus and it shouldn’t become one. There is a difference between what happened with Merah (Toulouse) and Charlie Hebdo; this must be deconstructed to show that it’s a matter of French citizens.
Zvika Klein might’ve done better to publish an interview and profile of Jakubowicz than gallivant around Paris needlessly provoking a harsh Muslim response.
H/t to reader John Dickerson.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.