Satirist sparks uproar with Sarkozy son Jewish jibe
French satirist sparked a furore over free speech and anti-Semitism as he targeted Sarkozy's son's engagement to a Jewish heiress.
A French newspaper satirist has sparked a feverish tug-of-war over free speech and anti-Semitism with a biting column on the engagement of President Nicolas Sarkozy's son to a Jewish heiress.
Published on July 2 in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, the piece cost the 79-year-old Siné, a veteran cartoonist and anarchist writer whose real name is Maurice Sinet, his job after he refused to apologise.
Since then it has unleashed a torrent of op-ed articles, blog entries, petitions and counter-petitions as French writers, politicians and armchair commentators line up to vilify or defend him.
A lifelong provocateur whose previous targets have included Muslim fundamentalists and gays, Siné finally went to the police after a website published a call for him to be murdered, his lawyer said on Sunday.
In the incendiary article, he penned a sharp paragraph on the rising fortunes of the 21-year-old Jean Sarkozy, who was elected this year to local office in his father's political fief, the chic Paris suburb of Neuilly.
Siné wrote that Sarkozy junior "has just said he intends to convert to Judaism before marrying his fiancée, who is Jewish, and the heiress to
the founders of Darty," a French retail giant. "He'll go far, that kid," he wrote.
Charlie Hebdo editor Philippe Val said Siné was sacked for remarks that "could be interpreted as drawing a link between conversion to Judaism and social success", relaying the old stereotype linking Jews and money.
Val said the text made it into print by mistake and was "neither acceptable nor defendable in court."
Aides to Jean Sarkozy, who has Jewish roots through his paternal grandmother, deny he has any plan to convert to Judaism when he marries his fiancée, Jessica Sibaoun-Darty.
But the "Affaire Siné" quickly escalated into a tug-of-war over freedom of expression and anti-Semitism -- a sensitive issue in a country that has both Europe's largest Jewish community, at 600,000 people, and its largest Muslim community, at around five million.
In an open letter in Le Monde last month, 20 writers and politicians including Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, Nobel Peace prize winner Elie Wiesel and former justice minister Robert Badinter, defended the paper's decision to sack its satirist.
They said he had "crossed the line between humorous insult and hateful caricature".
French Culture Minister Christine Albanel joined the chorus of condemnation last week.
Siné's detractors also have a trump card: the cartoonist was convicted of inciting racial hatred in 1985, over remarks made in 1982 after an attack in Paris' historic Jewish quarter.
"I am anti-Semitic and I am no longer afraid to say so... I want every Jew to live in fear, except if they are pro-Palestinian. Let them die," Siné said at the time. He later apologised.
The cartoonist, backed by a raft of fellow satirists, writers and artists fiercely denies the latest accusation of anti-Semitism, and is suing a fellow journalist for defamation for making the charge.
Eight thousand people have signed up to an online petition defending him, including the star architect Jean Nouvel and the far-left former presidential candidate Olivier Besancenot.
They insist he is not an anti-Semite, merely an agent provocateur, that his remarks were well within the law, and part of a healthy and necessary tradition of irreverent satire.
"We can't breathe in this country any more," complained the writer Jean-Marie Laclavetine in Le Monde. "We need the outrageousness of
someone like Siné."
"Charlie Hebdo has dealt a terrible blow to freedom of expression by seeking to gag Siné the libertarian," wrote Gisele Halimi, a high-profile lawyer and former lawmaker who is half Jewish.
The satirical weekly made headlines in 2006 for re-printing cartoons of the
Prophet Mohammed, which sparked a wave of violent protests around the
world, as well as an irreverent cartoon of its own.
It later won a defamation suit brought by French Muslim groups in a trial
seen as a test case for freedom of expression, and over which it received the
support of the French media and political establishment.
Why, ask Siné's supporters, should it be possible to criticise Islam but
Charlie Hebdo's editor Val retorted last week that the paper would publish attacks on any religion that "seeks to be a substitute for democratic law", but not against individuals "whatever their origin."
(AFP - expatica 2008)