Wednesday, 6 August 2008

French Cartoonist triggers national controversy with antisemitic jibe about Sarkozy's son

Nicolas Sarkozy’s son Jean is at the center of a national controversy after he was attacked by a satirist for allegedly planning to convert to Judaism.

In his article, cartoonist Siné mocked the precautious political agenda of Jean Sarkozy, who’s an elected official at 21 and implied the young man decided to wed a Jew and convert to Judaism in order to push forward his career.

“Jean Sarkozy, the natural son of his father and already councillor within his party, who was discharged at court in a hit and run accident with his motorbike. [...] Well, one must stress that the plaintiff was an Arab! And that’s not all: he just announced that he will convert to Judaism before marrying his fiancée, a Jew, and heiress of the founders of the Darty stores. This boy has some future!” wrote Siné on the July 9 issue of Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper, which had not been reviewed by the newsroom.

The affair could have gone unnoticed but journalist Claude Askolovitch denounced it as anti-Semitic and the newspaper’s manager Philippe Val agreed and requested an official printed excuse from the satirist. But the latter refused.

“Saying I’m sorry to Sarkozy and Darty? I might as well cut off my balls,” he replied, before being fired by Val.
The cartoonist got support from various public figures who argued he had the right to express himself. 3.000 people signed the petition in favour of Siné. They say the manager has double standards, because Charlie Hebdo’s satirical attitude is renowned. The newspaper had published the Danish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad and was sued for doing so by various Muslim associations. Philippe Val pleaded for hours in court in favour of the controversial drawings.

But Val says “criticizing religion, any religion, is not the same as criticizing someone for what they are.” “That is an unspoken rule at Charlie Hebdo” he wrote in a column a week after the controversy broke out. He added that Sarkozy’s conversion to Judaism was a mere rumour.

French news papers are divided on the issue but most of them criticize Siné and point out that he had, in the past, been condemned for anti-Semitic remarks.

Those who defend the cartoonist say that he was fired for his far-left, pro-Palestinian political views and that his latest article was merely an excuse. They accuse Val of harassing his employees and defending pro-Israeli positions.

The Jewish umbrella group CRIF issued a press release in support of Val saying the controversy had turned into a hate campaign against the editor. Intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy wrote that people are focusing on Val’s decision to fire the cartoonist instead of trying to understand why Siné’s remarks were anti-Semitic.

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