Yesh Atid MK Ruth Calderon was taken to task by Facebook users on Wednesday for quoting French general Philippe Petain, notorious for collaborating with the Nazis as head of Vichy France, in calling for “maturity and restraint” amid Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
“Audacity is the art of knowing how not to be too audacious,” Calderon wrote in a post to her Facebook page on Wednesday morning. She attributed the quote to Petain, adding that he had said the words at the Battle of Verdun in 1915.
In fact, the World War I battle, in which Petain proved instrumental to France’s victory over the Germans, took place in 1916, not 1915. Petain’s words may have been a paraphrase of an earlier quote on the topic of audacity by the great French general and emperor Napoleon: “The art of being very audacious and sometimes very prudent is the art of success.”
Calderon’s factual error was largely overlooked by Facebook users in light of the more glaring misstep: the decision to quote a known Nazi collaborator who passed anti-Semitic laws in France and prepared the ground for the deportation of the country’s Jews as per the Nazis’ Final Solution.
Calderon added that Jewish sources also glorified restraint over belligerence, quoting from the Mishnah: “Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations.”
But even an appeal to Jewish texts — she holds a PhD in Talmudic literature — was not enough to spare Calderon the derision of Israeli Facebook users.
“Is it just me, or did you just quote the head of the anti-Semitic Vichy regime that led the Jews of France to the crematoria?” asked one poster, Yoav Rabinovitz, whose comment generated over 240 likes in 10 hours, prompting Calderon herself to respond.
“Your harsh words are lamentable,” she wrote, beseeching users to look at the quote itself rather than its source. “What’s needed in these difficult days is restraint and maturity.
“I thank the IDF soldiers and reservists for defending the home front,” she added.
She later edited her original Facebook post to include the response to Rabinovitz’s comment.
Another poster, Itamar Harel, wrote, “You are aware that this strategy led to the thrashing of the French [in World War II] 25 years later, right? And that the guy you quoted was a despicable Nazi collaborator who to this day is considered a traitor to the French nation?
“Do you know, or does the book of quotes Yair [Lapid] bought you neglect to mention that?” he added, in a reference to the finance minister’s well-documented penchant for misquotes and Facebook gaffes.
Ran Baratz, a professor at Shalem College, remarked in a comment that Calderon had taken Petain’s statement out of context. The “restraint” Petain had urged, he said, alluded to the military strategy he championed — using heavy artillery to deplete the enemy lines before attacking the enemy on foot. The rest of the French military elite, said Baratz, championed the opposite strategy — attacking at any cost. So in fact, according to Baratz, Petain was championing an attack on enemy troops that was so destructive that they would be powerless to stop an offensive — the very opposite of restraint.
“You’ve made my day with the most outrageous [attempt] by an Israeli MK to quote a historical figure,” remarked another poster, Yossi Dorfman.
Another, Amit Sharir, quoted German-born Nobel Prize laureate Albert Einstein: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
“Quote [Nazi SS commander Adolf] Eichmann and be done with it,” said another, Moshe Kakon.
Last July, Calderon made headlines when she suggested that female MKs should have a dedicated powder room where they could apply cosmetics and make themselves more presentable.