French ambassador blurts out: "That shitty little country Israel.."
By Andrew Pierce, The Times, 19 December 2001
THE evening began as a party to honour a rising star of publishing and the Tory party. But by the time the last guest had left a diplomatic gaffe had been committed that threatens the career of France’s Ambassador to London.
Daniel Bernard was said to have made crude anti-Semitic remarks at the buffet party at the end of last week for Boris Johnson, Editor of The Spectator and successor to Michael Heseltine as Tory MP for Henley. Worse still, the ambassador made the alleged comments in private to his host, Lord Black of Crossharbour, proprietor of The Daily Telegraph, whom he regarded as a close friend, at Lord Black’s home in Kensington.
Unfortunately for M Bernard the conversation was conveyed by Lord Black to his journalist wife, Barbara Amiel, who hosted the “Boris Johnson Phenomenon” evening. She referred to the remark in her Daily Telegraph column. Ms Amiel was not at the table when the fateful conversation took place.
Ms Amiel wrote that the “ambassador of a major EU country told me” that the international security crisis had been triggered by “that shitty little country Israel”. The ambassador, according to Ms Amiel, added: “Why should we be in danger of world war three because of these people?” Ms Amiel, to protect the identity of her guest, did not name the ambassador.
There was no need to. Within 24 hours he had been identified as M Bernard, a man on close terms with President Chirac. Yesterday he was distraught about the breach of trust at a party where he thought he was among friends. The ensuing diplomatic fallout has led to calls from senior figures in the Jewish community in Britain for M Bernard to step down.
Yves Charpentier, Press Secretary at the French Embassy, confirmed that the ambassador Ms Amiel had referred to was M Bernard, who is a Roman Catholic.
M Charpentier said: “The ambassador regarded it as a private dinner with friends. He was surprised to have his remarks reported in this way. He discussed a number of topics including the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.”
Challenged whether he used the phrase “that shitty little country Israel”, M Charpentier said: “The ambassador does not remember if he used those words.
“The ambassador said we were facing a geographically limited problem, a small area, which has disproportionately huge consequences for world peace. He is not anti-Semitic or anti Israel.”
The British Board of Deputies, representing the Jewish community in Britain, expressed concern at the ambassador’s apparent criticism. A spokesman said: “These remarks do not constitute the official view of the French Embassy as they were said in a personal capacity. But it does cause grave concern if that is the ambassador’s personal opinion, particularly as the country he is talking about is one his Government claims is our staunch friend.”
M Charpentier said: “We are sending a Christmas card to them (Lord and Lady Black) today.” Asked if the ambassador would return for dinner, he added: “That depends whether they invite him.”