I take the liberty of using your first name because, as I hope you will recall, I made a cameo appearance in Manhattan Stories when I was mayor, and I really enjoyed it. And, of course, we often visit the same restaurants at the same time.
You were quoted in yesterday's New York Times on the subject of anti-Semitism in France as saying, "I never felt that the French people in any way were anti-Semitic...I think one can be very proud of France for the way they've acquitted themselves in the last election and I don't think a boycott is in order. I just don't feel that it's right...I think any boycott is wrong. Boycotts were exactly what the Germans were doing against the Jews."
Some who disagree with you, not only now, but in the past as well, have referred to you as a "self-hating Jew." I think that is unfair. Your humor, movies and scripts all convey in an intelligent and humorous manner your positive Jewish identity.
|"I am convinced that your comments have given the French people and their government undeserved cover for their tolerance of anti-Semitic behavior."|
I also believe you are wrong in your comments about the French.
While you defended the outcome of the last election and LePen's defeat as a "clear-cut response to the extreme right," Le Pen received 18 percent of the total vote. If a party whose leader is widely recognized even in France as a defender of the Nazi regime were to receive 18 percent of the vote for president here in the United States, would you feel proud of America or would you sit up and take notice?
Were you not offended when the French ambassador to Great Britain, Daniel Bernard, recently attending a dinner party, called Israel "a shitty little country," adding, "Why should the world be in danger of World War III because of those people?" The implication to many was that Ambassador Bernard thinks Jewish lives lost in terrorist suicide bombings are not as precious as others requiring our concern. It is a fact that during WWII, French cops in unoccupied Vichy France rounded up and delivered 61,000 Jews to the Nazis at Drancy without a request by the Nazis that they do so.
Those Jews ended up in Nazi death camps where they were gassed. It is generally accepted that the French in large numbers were collaborators with the Nazis. And a relatively small number continued to fight underground before France was liberated as a result of the D-Day invasion. In January of this year, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister, Michael Melchior, singled out France as the European country where the greatest number of anti-Semitic attacks have occurred.
Many knowledgeable observers believe anti-Semitism in France and elsewhere in Europe is equal to what it was in 1939. I do too.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, has denounced French anti-Semitism and the lack of governmental response, saying, "Time and again, we have called on President Chirac to come forward with strong denunciations of the violence and incendiary anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric, and take responsibility for Jewish citizens by better protecting them."
Apparently, the French government (Chirac having been reelected after Jospin, the socialist prime minister was defeated in the first election by LePen) is now acknowledging and taking appropriate, albeit belated action to protect its Jewish citizens and their synagogues from assault and arson. Apparently, most of the incidents are perpetrated by the French Muslim population.
Last year, Roger Cukierman, president of CRIF, the Representative Council of the Jewish Organizations of France, asked his French countrymen and the French government to recognize the seriousness of the anti-Semitic acts targeting Jews in France. He wrote in Le Monde in February 2001, "The leaders of the country like to play down anti-Jewish acts. They prefer to see these as ordinary violence. We are deluged with statistics designed to show that an attack against a synagogue is an act of violence and not anti-Semitism. Some Jews who have lost touch with reality like to buttress their personal status by turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to danger, in order to curry favor with the public consensus. "The media like to give the widest exposure to voices critical of Israel and Jews, all the more so when these voices are Jewish. This way, media can't be charged with anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism. Judicial authorities don't like to mete out strong punishment for acts of anti-Jewish violence, even when the perpetrators are caught red-handed: a three-month suspended sentence or nothing for an attack on a Jewish place of worship, compared to a year in jail for burning a straw cottage in Corsica."
It is true that Mr. Cukierman, with whom I have had correspondence, is currently opposed to a boycott, writing to me on April 8, 2002, "Things have changed in two ways. First, we have more and more anti-Semitic acts, clearly connected with the Middle East situation. We are fortunate that we have no death casualty. Secondly, the Prime Minister and the President have changed, at last, their attitude. They stopped minimizing and are now taking the situation seriously." I responded on April 15th, "Silence never works. I understand your needs living in France, and I can appreciate your frustration and inability to respond the way people like me, living in a free, democratic country where anti-Semitism is at an all-time low, will respond."
I believe a boycott directed at the French government, until it apologizes for its ambassador's scurrilous comments, is in order. Those comments, still not repudiated by the government, when viewed in the context of the physical assaults on French Jews, convey gross hostility and indifference on the part of the French toward Jews in general.
I am convinced that your comments have given the French people and their government undeserved cover for their tolerance of anti-Semitic behavior and shamefully inadequate response to it.
I do hope that you will reconsider your defense of France, and if you do, convey it to the American and French public, as only you can.
All the best.
Edward I. Koch
To: Ed Koch
From: Woody Allen
Date: May 28, 2002
Dear Ed Koch:
Thank you for the well reasoned and intelligent fax. I remember our working together just as fondly. Try to understand that when I speak at interviews, I'm there to plug my movie and give fast, impromptu answers to suddenly interjected, complicated questions. Without getting into it too deeply let me just say that I do not believe the French are anti-Semitic because I know a number of French Jews who strongly believe they are not anti-Semitic. More knowledgeable people on the subject than myself like Edgar Bronfman and Shimon Peres also feel strongly that the French are not anti-Semitic. The fact that anti-Semitic remarks can be attributed to certain ones there, even in high places, is no different than the sentiments of many world leaders including (in our country) Richard Nixon, Billy Graham, Jesse Jackson, etc...
These issues are always so sensitive and it's impossible not to offend but be assured that I long for the same peaceful, humanitarian solution that seems so simple and yet remains elusive. Thanks again for the fax. I hope we run into each other at a restaurant one night and perhaps we could continue this discussion or maybe we'll even work together again one day.
Thanks for your response to my letter of May 17.
Even if we are not in agreement on whether or not the French are anti-Semitic, your letter states your position in a very rational and responsible manner. I do hope that we will have an opportunity to pursue the matter, perhaps one night over dinner.
My letter to you was made public. Since it received an enormous amount of attention in the media, I have given a copy of your response to The New York Times.
I know that your latest movie, "Hollywood Ending," was well received in France. While I have been and continue to be an admirer of your work, I must in all candor say that "Hollywood Ending" did not receive accolades from me in my review which appears in local papers. You can be sure that every year I look forward to and see your latest movie.
All the best.
Edward I. Koch