There may be no true windows in to the souls
of politicians, but perhaps the inadvertently open microphone is an
aural equivalent – the briefest of glimpses of what lies beneath
the polished veneer of stock phrases and party lines.
Thus we discovered yesterday what Nicolas
Sarkozy really thought of Israeli prime minister Binyamin
Netanyahu. At the G20 meeting in Cannes the French president was
clearly unaware a nearby microphone was open when he turned to Barack
Obama and said: “Netanyahu, I can’t stand him. He’s a
The US president, according to the French
translator, replied: “You’re
sick of him? I have to work with him every day.”
Incidentally, the fact that we are only
learning this four days after the event says something about French
media culture. The journalists who heard the exchange on their
headphones before a press conference apparently did not report it
immediately because the comments were deemed private under “French
press traditions”. It was a media watchdog website, Arrêt
sur images, whothat finally leaked
the remarks.This is up there with the best of past open-mic gaffes.
It is reminiscent of John Major referring to his Eurosceptic cabinet
colleagues in 1993 as “bastards”, in a post-interview chat with
an ITN reporter. There is also George Bush junior’s open-mic aside
to Dick Cheney, referring to a prominent New York Times reporter in
2000 as a “major league asshole”.
Those cases somehow said less about the
intended targets than the speakers. Major and Bush had gone out of
their way to cultivate an image of politeness and fair play, and for
a moment the curtain was swept aside. Similarly, Bush’s open-mic
conversation with Tony Blair at the G8 summit in Russia (“Yo Blair.
How are you doing?”) said as much about his casual lack of respect
for foreign leaders as it did about Blair’s obsequiousness around
the American leader.
On balance, Sarko’s aside does more damage
to Netanyahu. After all, he came to power as the most pro-Israel
French president in decades and is clearly losing patience. To call
someone a ‘liar’ is no profanity (although MPs are not permitted
to apply it to each other in parliament), but is all the more cutting
because of it, especially with another world leader nodding in
agreement. It reinforces Netanyahu’s image at home as an
opportunist who is losing Israel friends abroad.
Oh to be a fly on the wall at their next
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