Will it Ever Go Away: Galliano and Assange Make Anti-Semitic Remarks

I don't often post (or even talk) much about anti-Semitism. In my life, I have only experienced it a few times (two of the incidents occurred while I attended college). Still, when I see two media darlings make anti-Semitic at the same time, it is worth noticing.

John Galliano, the just-fired designer for the House of Dior who is famous for his outlandish behavior, was accused of making anti-Semitic remarks in a Paris bar. This type of speech is a crime in France. A few days later, a British paper posted a video of similar remarks made at the same bar months ago. According to the NY Times, he has been fired from his job. Natalie Portman, perhaps the most Jewishly involved A-list star and the spokesperson for Miss Dior Cherie perfume denounced him immediately, which the NY Times thinks sealed his fate.

This morning, I saw an article in the NY Times about anti-Semitic comments supposedly made by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in an interview. The account, which is disputed and is less disturbing even if true, is based on the well-known anti-Semitic staple of a Jewish media conspiracy. Assange has longed blamed his prosecution on rape charges and other legal issues to international conspiracies (some of which may be true as his organization has upset many governments). The move from general conspiracies to anti-Semitism is common. The most notorious example in my mind is the prominent role Israel plays in 9-11 conspiracy theories.

This semester, I am teaching a class about Diaspora Jewish cultures throughout history atWestern New England College. Many of the students commented that they were unaware of the history of anti-Semitism and the historic connections between Christianity and anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism is known as the "Scourge that won't go away."

It is far beyond my time or abilities to explain why anti-Semitism won't go away. It is just important to note that exists. In many parts of the world (especially Europe and countries withArab and/or Muslim majorities, it is rampant. Even in the US, it increased with the economic downturn (which is a typical pattern as it is easier to blame others for problems than to face up to our own responsibility) although it is lower than it once was and is currently much lower than anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry (which is not anti-Semitism even though Arabs are Semites).

On college campuses, most anti-Semitism is connected with anti-Israel sentiment and activism. See my previous blog post about it to learn more of my opinion about it.

I will restate a few things which may not have been clear when I said them before: not all anti-Israel sentiment or activism is anti-Semitic. Even when anti-Israel sentiment is anti-Semitic, it may not be intentional. Anti-Israel rhetoric regularly published in Arab media uses recognized anti-Semitic stereotypes, images, Holocaust denial and more. In a few cases, I have heard students and faculty who grew up in the Middle East use similar stereotypes and images without understanding their meaning or how they are viewed in the US. When I have confronted them about it, they are usually surprised and have always sincerely apologized. I am willing to attribute some of the anti-Semitic stereotypes and imagery in anti-Israel activism to similar lack of understanding (it is possibly more common in non-Arab students involved in activism who follow others' lead).

I do want to reiterate that picking on Israel alone (or disproportionately) for its evils while ignoring similar issues elsewhere in the world is anti-Semitism. Those who do it (including many of the people involved in BDS) don't like it when I say that but that doesn't make it any less true.

The only cure (and I hesitate to use the world since history suggests it can not and will not be cured) is education and open communication. Let this post be part of your education.

As always, I welcome your thoughtful and respectful comments and responses (either publicly or privately).

Rabbi Bruce

Personal Content Update: I was asked by a college friends what the incidents were in college. One Shabbat morning we arrived to services at the Conservative synagogue to find a large swastika painted on the door (it was the second time that happened). One night while joining Lancaster Theological Seminary Students at a bar-b-q (during the two years I lived there), a white van with no license plates drove the wrong way through the complex. Both the driver and passenger were wearing full Klan Regalia. In retrospect, it was more bigotry than Anti-Semitism. Two incidents happened after I started wearing my Kippah all of the time. In the first, a group of teens yelled at me out of a car while I was crossing the street. Another time, I drove with James to a farmer's market some ways outside of town. While we were shopping at a stall, the proprietor started sharpening a very long knife and saying: "I know about you people." We quickly walked to our car and drove away!

General Content Update:
This arrive in today's email to members of the New York Board of Rabbis:

Although the Academy Awards have already been given, I would like to suggest that two more be announced to the public. The first I would call the Best Condemnation by an Actress in a Leading Role, and the winner is Natalie Portman for her powerful statement protesting the anti-Semitic diatribe of former-Christian Dior head designer John Galliano. Her remarks reflected her great pride in her people. In an official statement, Ms. Portman said:

“I am deeply shocked and disgusted by the video of John Galliano’s comments that surfaced today. 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. I hope at the very least, these terrible comments remind us to reflect and act upon combating these still-existing prejudices that are the opposite of all that is beautiful.”

The second award would be the Best Action Taken by a Leading Corporation, and the winner is The House of Dior which quickly terminated the employment of John Galliano. We didn’t hear the usual weary defense that the remarks were taken out of context and misinterpreted. The House’s chief executive, Sidney Toledano, who is also Jewish, made the following statement at the beginning of today’s runway show in Paris:

“Since its founding by Monsieur Dior, the House of Christian Dior has lived an extraordinary and wonderful story and has had the honor of embodying France’s image, and its values, all around the world. What has happened over the last week has been a terrible and wrenching ordeal to us all. It has been deeply painful to see the Dior name associated with the disgraceful statements attributed to its designer, however brilliant he may be. Such statements are intolerable because of our collective duty to never forget the Holocaust and its victims, and because of the respect for human dignity that is owed to each person and to all peoples. These statements have deeply shocked and saddened all at Dior who give body and soul to their work, and it is particularly painful that they came from someone so admired for his remarkable creative talent.”

Rabbi Charles Klein told me of two expressions often used in the Torah, B’inai Yisrael and Bayt Yisrael. At the beginning of the Exodus, we would read of the Jews as individuals (B’nai Yisrael), but as they formed a bond with their people, they were transformed into the House of Israel (Bayt Yisrael).

It is most heartening to see people who identify with Bayt Yisrael not just on a screen or a runway but in real life.

Shabbat Shalom,



Wendy Robin Stark said...

I'm curious what the two instances were in college.

sewa mobil said...

Nice article, thanks for the information.