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March 23, 2011 12:09 pm

Dior Designer Fired for Antisemitism

avatar by Daniel Vahab

A lead designer of the popular fashion label Christian Dior was fired after he spewed antisemitism at a reportedly Jewish and Asian couple in a Paris restaurant in February 2011. Fortunately, someone was there to film it and expose him. The video, circulated all over the Internet, shows an intoxicated John Galliano telling the couple that he “loves Hitler” and that “people like you would be dead today. Your mothers, your forefathers should be f***ing gassed, and f***ing dead.”

Jewish Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman, featured in several ads for Dior’s perfume, said in a statement that she was “deeply shocked and disgusted” by the comments. She added that, “In light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way.” She, like actor John Voight, should be applauded for going out of her way to publicly condemn antisemitism. Voight had called Time magazine antisemitic for its September 13th cover story entitled “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace?”

What’s ironic here, as mentioned in a reader’s comment from an article on the incident, a fan Web site of the star, is that Hitler gassed homosexuals, like Galliano, in addition to Jews.

Also ironic, a confidant of Galliano is quoted as saying that “Johnny knows that Paris designers were exterminated systematically by the Nazis in living memory.”

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The confidant defended Galliano as not antisemitic on the basis that he wanted to “shock strangers” and “surprise” them, like how he surprises people in his fashion shows.

This was similar to how a source tried to defend antisemitic reality television star motorcycle builder Jesse James, saying in an interview that James is not a “skinhead” and that the “swastika deal is to scare people. It’s part of biker culture.”

Galliano also reportedly made an anti-Asian remark. Several other celebrities accused of antisemitism have directly offended more than just Jews—Gibson has been accused of making offensive remarks to African Americans, Hispanics, and homosexuals; Don Imus has offended African Americans and women; and Prince Harry has offended Pakistani and Middle Eastern people.

One who is not antisemitic but is bigoted or prejudiced toward another is just as bad as someone who is antisemitic.

But Philipe Virgitt,the man in the couple who Galliano ranted at, has actually taken the designer’s side. “For me, it was a simple bar dispute,” he’s been quoted as saying. Virgitt doesn’t believe Galliano “meant” what he said and is thus not “racist or anti-Semitic.” Instead, says Virgitt, Galliano is “just . . . very ill,” noting that he’s got an issue with alcohol.

Unlike America, which protects hate speech and only punishes hate violence, most European nations, including France, have laws against hate speech and Holocaust denial. Thus, as numerous media sources have noted, the British designer could be put in prison for up to six months for his comments.

Galliano’s Jewish attorney, Stephane Zerbib, who’s faced criticism for defending him, said that everyone deserves a “fair trial.” He added that he’s “wary of pre-judgment,” as if the fashionista’s antisemitism caught on tape wasn’t blatant enough.

He further defended Galliano by saying that, “It could happen to any one of us. Anyone can go to a bar, drink a little and get into a fight with someone.”Even though he had been drinking, like Mel Gibson at the time of his antisemitic DUI incident, and even if he was provoked both don’t give him a right to say something antisemitic.

However, according to one poll, most people are less inclined to defend him. Toluna QuickSurveys, a popular Web site that allows market researchers to develop surveys on a variety of issues, conducted a survey on the Galliano incident. The survey, which lasted for more than three weeks and polled more than 2400 of its United States users, found that roughly 70 percent felt that Galliano had made a “very serious mistake.” The same question of whether he had made a “big mistake” was asked of 1200 British (Galliano’s nation) users and the findings were consistent.

As to whether Dior should fire him and he should go to court over his comments, the percents weren’t as high but the biggest percents were still against him. Nearly 43 percent felt he should “only” be fired, and nearly 30 percent felt he should both be fired and go to court. Compare this with the next biggest percent, only roughly 11 percent, who say no to both options.

Speaking of France, the nation has been at the vanguard of European antisemitism. Just in the past few years, in Toulouse, a car on fire crashed into a synagogue, and in Villeneuve-St-Georges a synagogue’s door was met with fire; elsewhere an identified Jew was hunted down and stabbed numerous times in one of the worst antisemitic incidents in France’s history; in Metz, police had to intervene during a pro-Palestinian demonstration when a group of hooligans came ominously near a synagogue; “Get out of Gaza” was emblazoned across one synagogue; another had “Death to Israel” and “Long live Palestine” and swastika graffiti; other incidents had synagogue window’s shattered. 

Former French Ambassador to England, Daniel Bernard, in 2001 infamously called Israel “that shitty little country” during a dinner party at the residence of Jewish journalist Barbara Amiel. Bernard had reportedly asked, “Why should the world be in danger of World War Three because of those people?”

France’s far-right politician Jean-Marie Pen proudly displays his antisemitism coupled within his anti-immigration xenophobia. Luckily, he never got elected president—albeit he did come close when his National Front Party (whose founders include Nazis and terrorists) got 17 percent of the vote, second place, behind President Chirac in the 2002 presidential elections.

On several occasions, Pen was reprimanded for his bigotry and violence: in 1987, outrage sparked after he said the Holocaust was a “minor detail” in World War II; in 1990, he was given a hefty fine for his controversial views on Nazi treatment of Jews; in 2005, in an interview with the far-right newspaper Rivarol, he dismissed the French under Nazi control as “not especially inhumane”—despicable remarks that put him in court again in 2008 with the verdict of a very small fine and a three month suspended prison sentence.

France’s Forth Estate has taken an active role in condoning antisemitism. Al-Manar, a Lebanon-based terrorist controlled television network, aired antisemitism in 2004 with their then French broadcast license. 

A French media analyst accused France 2, the state-owned television channel, of disseminating “staged” pictures of a Muslim boy’s death in the Second Intifada in 2000. This was a sad case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The location was Gaza and the tragedy occurred during a shootout between Palestinian gunmen and the IDF, Israeli soldiers. With his father trying to protect him, his son, Muhammad al-Dura, took a bullet. Deftly edited and distorted images ensued and Israel’s military was made to appear responsible. Later, however, expert testimony in court showed that there was no way the IDF killed the boy, and that instead the boy’s blood was on the hands of Palestinians. Of course, antisemitic opponents of Israel capitalized on the false images, rioting and murdering Israeli Jews in the name of the incident.

In order to better understand the Muslim roots of France’s antisemitism, one must consider the nation’s North African Muslim minority. The Algerians, formally French subjects, had since immigrated to France after they won their war for independence. Many of them are unemployed and are forced to take the jobs no one else wants, like garbage collector. Antisemitic Islamic fundamentalists, who breed on the vulnerable, went into the Algerian ghettos and recruited the poor, hopeless Algerians.

But the situation is more complicated than that. Antisemitism expert Kenneth S. Stern of the American Jewish Committee in his book, Antisemitism Today: How It Is the Same, How It Is Different and How to Fight It, writes of the rise in antisemitism following the breakdown of the Oslo peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2000. In this context, he highlights France’s “slow” response in tackling the hate. He explains that France underwent a burgeoning Muslim population that significantly outnumbers its Jewish population. A lot of those Muslim immigrants are antisemitic. French politicians, who are motivated by votes, are more inclined to side with their large Muslim constituency and their agenda versus their small Jewish constituency, and this is especially so during election time.

And that’s not all. The increased immigrants also mean more xenophobic, racist politicians like Pen, who attract neo-Nazis and the like. Thus, France’s socio-economic-political factors account for much of its antisemitism.

It’s also important to remember that France’s universal Jew in the 1890’s was Alfred Dreyfus whom was wrongly accused and sentenced as a traitor in the military. Theodor Herzl, then a journalist reporting on the affair, was so disturbingly moved by what he saw that it was a factor in forming his Zionist vision.

The irony of French antisemitism being so vile is that the French Revolution, which sparked similar revolutions in other nations, promoted democratic liberal ideas of freedom and equality for all; ideas which were then revolutionary in concept; ideas that are in stark contrast to prejudice of all kinds.

Don’t make antisemitic remarks or there will negative consequences—a lesson that has to be continually learned. Galliano, who was fired from Dior following his rant, apparently didn’t learn this lesson from Rick Sanchez, Helen Thomas, Mel Gibson, and others. But he’s sure learning it now—the hard way.

In the sense that all these celebrities who spew antisemitism face backlash, we have come a long way in fighting bigotry. But in another sense, so many instances of antisemitism make headlines, and the year is 2011, decades after the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement. It is scary and shows we still have much to overcome.

And just think, these are only the antisemitic incidents that we know about because they received publicity. One can only imagine how many more go unnoticed everyday.

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