Chief rabbi joins France's thriving liars’ club
While all French eyes were focused firmly this week on former budget minister and secret offshore banker Jérôme Cahuzac, France’s chief rabbi took the chance to quietly excrete his own admission of guilt.
After weeks of denying accusations that he had plagiarised material for his latest book, Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim (below) finally acknowledged on Tuesday that parts of the book had indeed been copy-pasted straight from other texts.
Hardly anybody in France noticed the story though, because they were all busy staring, aghast, at the other news just in – their trusty budget minister had been hiding away 600,000 euros in an offshore bank account.
Either Bernheim has an uncanny sense of timing or his PR adviser is a genius. After weeks of maintaining his innocence, falsely accusing a dead writer of plagiarism and generally throwing his toys out of the pram, Bernheim chose Tuesday to release a statement acknowledging his guilt. Not only was he conveniently out of the country at the time (and therefore far from the public glare), but his admission came just hours after Jérôme Cahuzac released his own stinking bombshell.
‘He plagiarised me first’
Like Cahuzac, Bernheim wrongly believed that if he lied for long enough, the accusations against him would go away. But unlike Cahuzac, Bernheim was faced with a mass of hard, publicly available, evidence against him. Four pages of it, copied almost word for word, from a 1991 interview with philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, appeared in his 2011 book, ‘Forty Jewish Meditations’.
Bernheim attempted to get round this unfortunate coincidence by suggesting that the late Lyotard, who attended lectures delivered by Bernheim in the 1980s, had in fact plagiarised him, not the other way round.
“During his lectures, [Bernheim] used to hand out copies of his text to scholars and also allowed the tape-recording of his lectures,” a statement published on his website on March 20 read. “This week, [Bernheim] discovered an interview in which Jean-François Lyotard repeated one of those lectures,” it continued.
In a show of forgiveness to Lyotard (who, conveniently, has been dead since 1998), Bernheim promised not to pursue the matter.
‘Strong desire’ to copy and paste
But Bernheim’s creative plea did not get him very far. When the blogs that had initially drawn attention to the matter began to dig a little further into the book, they discovered other chunks of familiar-looking work, this time by authors such as Elie Wiesel and Charles Dobzynski. They were also drawn to some unlikely edicts for a rabbi, such as “Christ put an end to God's suspense”. Strangely enough, Catholic writer Jean-Marie Domenach expressed the same sentiment, word for word, back in 1976.
When Bernheim did finally admit to having lied, he still refused to take full responsibility. Yes, the book included plagiarised texts, he said. But it was not him who had put them there. Citing a “lack of time”, Bernheim claimed that he had asked one of his students – whose name, incidentally, he couldn’t possibly divulge – to “do some research for” (i.e.: write) the book. “It was a terrible mistake… I have been fooled,” he said.
He didn’t mind fooling the public, however, when the book was released. Talking about it in an interview published on a Jewish students’ website in December 2011 (since removed), he described “a strong desire to write,” saying that he would work right up until he went to bed and then as soon as he woke up in the morning.
Bernheim has now asked for 'Forty Jewish Meditations' to be recalled and removed from his biography. Whether he will resign remains to be seen. Perhaps he’s waiting for that clandestine student of his to pen his resignation letter…