At a time when the "struggle against anti-Semitism" has been expanded and exploited as a means of defending Israel's policies, it is convenient to believe that any genuine hatred of Jews - at least among those who are educated and influential - is strictly confined to the dustbin of history. Yet a number of recent incidents involving well-known figures prove once again that prejudicial views continue to fester underneath the surface.
The latest incident involved John Galliano, a Paris-based designer who was at the helm of Christian Dior and is considered one of the more prominent fashion minds of our era. While intoxicated at a pub in the Le Marais district of Paris, an area known for its rich Jewish history, Galliano allegedly told one of the patrons: "Dirty Jew, you should be dead."
Initially, the designer denied making the remark, but a short time later, a video clip of the incident made its way to the Internet. Galliano is caught in the footage telling two women: "I love Hitler. People like you would be dead. Your mothers, your forefathers, would be all gassed." Considering his standing in the industry, Dior's response to the incident was determined and courageous: The company fired the British designer.
The Galliano incident took place just a short time after a publicized dustup between actor Charlie Sheen, star of the hit American sitcom "Two and a Half Men," and the show's co-creator, Chuck Lorre. In a radio interview, Sheen - who is also the highest paid actor on U.S. television - referred to Lorre a number of times as "Chaim Levine" (Lorre's original name is Charles Levine; his Hebraized name is Chaim). Following Sheen's comments, the sitcom's current season was canceled.
Galliano is certainly not alone in his opinions. While the French police are considering charges against him, Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani spoke admiringly of him.
Natalie Portman, who earlier this week won the Academy Award for best actress and who is also a paid spokeswoman for Christian Dior, released a statement saying she was "deeply shocked and disgusted" by the video and that she refuses to be associated with the designer. The Israeli-born actress added that Galliano's remarks remind us of the need to fight still-existing prejudice. She is right.
In 2011, the need to stand on guard against hatred of Jews is no less urgent now than it has ever been, particularly if the person expressing such hatred is a celebrity.
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