Thursday, April 19, 2007

Early Chutzpah

There has been a lot of discussion of chutzpah this week (not without good reason); and I have already had at least one encounter with the risk of making the weekly award too early. However, every now and then there is a story that just jumps out at you; and in this case there was so much energy in the leap that I viewed it as a serious and justified challenge to the outstanding nomination for George W. Bush. My intention is to assign this week's award to Jean-Marie Le Pen. Now Le Pen is probably already a leading contender for a "Lifetime Achievement Award," should I ever decide that it is time to issue one of them; but this week's award involves a very specific story that Al Jazeera pulled from their wire services.

Actually, it is really a "multiple-chutzpah" story; so I have to sort out and attempt to prioritize the details. The bottom line (which would have been enough to make Le Pen a viable competitor against Bush) is simple enough: Running in fourth place in the polls for the French presidential election, Le Pen has decided to court the Jewish vote. Those who are unfamiliar with Le Pen's reputation among Jews may recall that in 1987 he gave a public speech in which he described the Nazi death camps as a "detail of history!" Well, as they say, the devil is in the details; and in this case the devil is the long cultural memory of the French Jewish population, many of whom either survived or lost relatives (or both) in those death camps.

So Le Pen does things in a big way. (Did anyone hear him singing La Marseillaise on the news?) In this case it is not just that he is courting the Jewish vote but how he has decided to do it:

Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the National Front, made the appeal in comments printed in the Hebrew-language Maariv newspaper on Thursday, ahead of his fifth presidential run.

Now, if this is the Maariv I think it is, then it is an Israeli paper; and, at least when I was living in Israel, it was one of the more reputable ones. I have no idea what its circulation in France is like, but I have to wonder if he opted for this strategy under the assumption that French Jewish voters understand Hebrew better than they understand French. If this is the case (and, given the history of Le Pen's judgments, that is not a far-fetched assumption), then we have him on at least two counts of chutzpah!

Nevertheless, it continues to get better (or worse, depending on your perspective). In spite of my comments about a "long cultural memory," Le Pen decided to revisit 1987. Here is what he told Maariv:

I did not deny the Holocaust. I only said simply that the gas chambers did not constitute but a detail in the history of World War II. It is not something that should provoke anger.

You have to wonder whether he has been taking lessons from Bush. He seems to have that same talent for getting in a hole and then digging deeper in his efforts to get out of it!

I would like to have faith in the French. Beyond the long memory to 1987 there is the more recent experience of Le Pen making to the runoff for the last presidential election. My guess is that most of the French population does not want to see that happen again, but Le Pen has done a great service in reminding them why they do not want to see it again!

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