Rejecting Extremes: Doing the Right Thing?
Much as even the casual tracker of antisemitic ‘bimbo eruptions’ could be forgiven for not being able to keep up with the latest Jew-baiting outbursts from high-profile personas, the events of the past week has been downright dizzying their its global array of hate-filled invective.
Last Thursday, Hollywood’s Charlie Sheen was told by CBS not to show up for the next filming of an episode of Two and a half Men for having had a ‘borderline antisemtic’ go at his Jewish producer.
Then, on Friday, the British super-star fashion designer John Galliano was given his walking papers by Christian Dior for being caught on video expectorating a hate-dripping rant that managed to invoke both the Holocaust and Hitler, which he hurled at patrons in a Parisian restaurant.
And finally, today we read that the WikiLeaks founder and director Julian Assange dips into the Judeophobic cesspool by claiming ‘a Jewish conspiracy’ (co-conspired by Guardian editors, no less).
Hateful and disturbing as these eruptions are, it’s difficult not to sink into a miasma of despair.
What on earth is the likeable (at least on-screen – and yes, I confess to being a fan of the show) Sheen doing by referring to Chuck Lorre by his Hebrew name (Chaim Levine) and a stereotypically one at that – for added emphasis, almost as it were as puerile form ‘Jewish ‘outing’?
Sheen’s own excuse – first that it was no different from being referred to by his ‘birth’ name – Carlos Estivez – and then, more interpretatively, weaselling an explanationto TMZ that he was “referring to Chuck by his real name because I wanted to address the man, not the bulls**t TV persona” – only makes matters worse. Wrap it all up in the context of what Sheen is clearly irked by – not being paid the money he thinks he’s worth – and the fully intimated anti-Jewish trope might well have been: “Yeah, I know this Jew-boy for what he really is – a vindictive, money grubbing Yid.”
Is it any wonder that one veteran Hollywood screenwriter and producer exasperatingly quipped that whatever rationale for his behaviour, Sheen “sure looked like he was channelling Mel Gibson with antisemitic remarks.”
As for John Galliano, the nature and extent of his outburst – in which he declares to the patrons of Paris’ La Perle restaurant in the predominantly Jewish Le Marais district, “I love Hitler,” adding that “people like you would be dead,” and “your mothers, your forefathers” would all be “gassed” – was breathtaking. Few of us can grasp what it must have felt like to be on the receiving end of such a tirade. Small wonder, then that a second vicitim of Galliano’s poison felt comfortable enough to come forward five months later.
But despondent as we may be there have been items that could be legitimately filed under the ‘Silver Lining Department’: the number of people and institutions who, when confronted with such blatant expressions of antisemitism – have done the right thing.
By cancelling any future episodes of Two and a half Men both CBS and Warner Brothers have taken a considerable financial hit. Estimates are that the cancellation of next season’s sit-com will mean an estimated loss of some $250 million in revenue. In both corporations’ eyes, they correctly calculated that their reputation would not survive a simple slap on the wrist, especially when Sheen’s Jew-baiting rant, on top of months of tolerance and serial attempts at drug rehabilitation, brushed up against a form of racism.
In this connection the Anti-Defamation League – which has been criticized in the past for too readily attaching the radioactive label of antisemitism to even the mildest of inferences – also seems to have gotten it right. Using the judiciously worded ‘borderline antisemitism’ ADL correctly assessed that Sheen’s rant went beyond the merely personal by bringing in a factor that had nothing to do with (at least openly) with the beef he allegedly had with his director.
Likewise in the fashion world, when it comes to star-studded extremist behaviour, Dior’s decision to suspend Galliano as its creative director for his volcanic expectoration of hate-filled bile was the only punishment merited – albeit not necessarily guaranteed. Given the estimated loss of income to the Paris-based queen of haut couture, the decision to terminate rather than suspend is noteworthy indeed. Even more remarkable is today’s announcement by Paris prosecutors said that Galliano will stand criminal trial over his alleged racial insults.
If novelist Linda Grant’s keenly insightful analysis is correct – i.e. that Galliano’s behaviour needs to be seen in the ever-ratcheted-upward fashion industry’s obsession with pushing the boundaries of ‘taboo-busting’ transgression – then perhaps this was Dior’s own intervention against an ethos of binge boundary-pushing when it comes to group and ethnic sensitivities.
(My one caveat – which I have written about previously – would be that it isn’t simply the fashion industry which likes to push the ‘transgression’ button, however. It’s habitual behaviour for much of the media in general, which all too frequently grab for the OTT stereotype – whether Israel as an ‘apartheid’ state or carrying out ‘Nazi’ policies – all in the service of provocative editorializing.)
Even the bizarre WikiLeaks founder’s nosedive off the deep end of group-slander pool seems to have its redeeming moments – not the least of which has been the bizarre accusation that the Guardian’s [non-Jewish] editor Alan Rusbridger and/or its editorial policy was an outgrowth of institutional philosemitism. Watching theGuardian having to deny a Protocols-era antisemitic Jewish conspiracy accusation by someone so closely associated with a mad dog left wing anti-Zionist cadre of Holocaust deniers the likes of Israel Shamir as close to a ‘Now you know what it feels like’ moment as it gets.
Schadenfreude notwithstanding, however, hats off to Private Eye editor Ian Hislop for putting Assange’s wacko accusation in the public space to begin with, and to the left-leaning media in general – including the Guardian – for coming down hard enough that he was forced to issue a retraction.
My final observation is this: Given these ‘silver lining’ components – which must be seen against the backdrop of a creeping profusion of antisemitic topoi in the media and public space overall – how much more disappointing is it when similar antisemitic eruptions go unanswered – let alone unchallenged or unchecked except by Jews themselves? British Jews are still waiting for an apology from senior British politician Tam Dalyell, who said in 2003 that a “Jewish cabal” is driving British foreign policy – or from Tom Paulin for his antisemitic poem, “Killed in Crossfire”, for that matter.
Like it or not, in the majority of instances Britain remains, as journalist Richard Littlejohn once put it, one country where “slagging off Jews means never having to say you’re sorry.”
And yet, who knows? Perhaps the positive interventions of the last week will inspire others to do the right thing the next time around.