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What Drives Celebrity Anti-Semitism?

Benjamin Weinthal
30th March 2011 - The Jewish Press

In a span of several weeks, a motley group of celebrities ranging from the composer of "Zorba the Greek" to a British fashion designer to an American television actor - as well as the Australian founder of WikiLeaks - have all manifested Judeophobia.

In a span of several weeks, a motley group of celebrities ranging from the composer of "Zorba the Greek" to a British fashion designer to an American television actor - as well as the Australian founder of WikiLeaks - have all manifested Judeophobia.

What is this global celebrity outburst targeting Jews all about?

There is a refreshing honesty about what animates the anti-Semitism of Mikis Theodorakis, best known for composing the musical score to the academy-award winning film "Zorba the Greek." He recently declared on Greek television that he was "anti-Israel and anti-Semitic."

The 86-year-old member of the Greek Communist party also said, "Everything that happens today in the world has to do with the Zionists." Another comment was "American Jews are behind the world economic crisis that has hit Greece also."

Theodorakis blasted Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou for establishing closer relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was guilty, he said, of "war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza."

While most Europeans and North Americans who loathe the Jewish state disguise their hatred through the cottage industry of boycotts, divestment and sanctions targeting Israel, Theodorakis simply came out of the anti-Semitic closet. European politicians like the former Social Democratic German chancellor Helmut Schmidt and former Christian Democratic Union party German president Richard von Weizsäcker - both of whom signed a petition last year to sanction Israel - would, of course, never own up to being contaminated by the "A" word.

That helps explain why former Christian Dior fashion designer John Galliano, actor Charlie Sheen, and WikiLeaks boss Julian Assange scrambled to distance themselves from allegations of anti-Semitism, which still spells opprobrium and has the potential to ruin careers.

Helen Thomas is now yesterday's woman because of her anti-Semitic tirades. But her anti-Israel bilge is the long established departure point for a solid majority of European journalists and entertainers.

Galliano's diatribes in a Paris bar involved calling a patron "a dirty Jew" and declaring "I love Hitler." He also told a guest at the bar, whom he believed to be Jewish, that "People like you would be dead. Your mothers, your forefathers, would all be [expletive] gassed."

Dior dismissed its chief designer, and he promptly boarded a plane to enroll in a Arizona-based addiction treatment center know for helping celebrities.

The reactions to Galliano's comments were revealing. While Natalie Portman, the American-Israeli actress and Dior perfume model, said, to her credit, that she was "shocked and disgusted" and "would not be associated with Mr. Galliano," the German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld was more troubled that his colleague created a "horrible image" of the fashion industry.

Charlie Sheen, erstwhile star of the television show "Two and a Half Men," singled out his Jewish producer Chuck Lorre by his Hebrew first name and original surname - Haim Levine - and raged against him as a "contaminated little maggot" that "can't handle my power and can't handle the truth." Sheen went on to "wish him nothing but pain in his silly travels, especially if they wind up in my octagon."

Ridiculing the names of Jews was a favorite pastime of German anti-Semites and the use of biological language to dehumanize Jews was ubiquitous among Nazis. In sharp contrast to Hollywood's kid-glove approach to director and actor Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic diatribes, Warner Bros. sacked Sheen and justified the swift contractual discharge because his "comments poison[ed] key working relationships." (A curious footnote to Sheen's meltdown is that he told a radio interviewer he's a "huge fan" of Gibson and praised him as a "beautiful man."

The Pavlovian reflex to blame the Jews found its way into WikiLeaks founder Assange's explanation for the widespread criticism of his whistleblower organization. Assange allegedly told the British magazine Private Eye that the Guardian newspaper was "part of a conspiracy" directed by "Jewish" writers to discredit him and WikiLeaks. Private Eye had queried Assange about his work with a writer accused of being a Holocaust denier. Realizing he'd been caught with his hand deep in the anti-Semitic cookie jar, Assange told Private Eye journalist Ian Hislop, "Forget the Jewish thing."

As can be seen from these celebrity diatribes, anti-Semitism takes many forms. Some celebrity outbursts (like Assange's) are animated by classical anti-Jewish conspiracy theories; others (as in the Sheen and Galliano cases) by a reflexive tendency to project one's own pathologies onto the Jews.

In the case of Theodorakis, though, it is his deep-seated dislike of the Jewish state that came to the fore. And while this kind of reflexive delegitimazation of Israel is what drives many if not most public displays of celebrity anti-Semitism, it is the one factor assiduously ignored by the mainstream media - which helps explain why Theodorakis's outburst, as opposed to the others, went largely unreported.

By its failure to attach weight to anti-Israel inspired anti-Semitism, the media get the story only half right.

Benjamin Weinthal is a Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. His work has appeared in a variety of media outlets including National Review Online, The Wall Street Journal Europe, The Weekly Standard and The Jewish Press.

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antisemitism