This Siné Business

When I’m in France I like to buy Charlie Hebdo: their rather more scatological version of Private Eye. To be frank, my French is too poor to understand the jokes, but I like to pretend I do. It makes me feel European.

Over the last few weeks, France has been fussing about a columnist in Charlie Hebdo, Siné, who has been sacked. The backstory is that Sarko’s son is dating the Darty white good heiress, who is Jewish. There has been some debate as to whether he will convert to Judaism, if he marries her. Siné observed in his column, that if he did become a Jew, he would:

“make his way, this little fellow!”

The implication of the statement, it seemed to some, that merely by becoming a Jew, Sarko Jr would obtain entry into a world of powerful people who would set you up for life.

I do think that the statement in Charlie Hebdo is a mildly racist one. It falls into much the same category as, for example, a naff remark about a Scotsman’s meanness or the stupidity of an Irishman. It is crass but not particularly serious. Perhaps it loses something in translation.

The editor of Charlie Hebdo, Philippe Val, asked Siné to withdraw his remarks and then fired him when he didn’t.

What has followed is nicely chronicled on the Z Word Blog here and here. It will be very familiar to anybody who has followed public debate on the subject of anti-semitism in Great Britain. The defence of Siné has, in essence, been what David Hirsh calls the “Livingstone Manouvre”: claim that anti-semitism is being raised in order to prevent criticism of Zionism.

At this point you might fairly say: “Huh”. What does Israel/Palestine have to do with it?

Apparently, this. It emerged that Siné had made the following statement on the Carbone 14 radio station after the terrorist bombing of a Jewish restaurant in Paris in 1982, which left six people dead. Siné apparently said:

 “Je suis antisémite et je n’ai plus peur de l’avouer, je vais faire dorénavant des croix gammées sur tous les murs… je veux que chaque juif vive dans la peur, sauf s’il est propalestinien. Qu’ils meurent !”

(“I am an antisemite and I am not afraid to say so. I will paint swastikas on all the walls. I want each Jew to live in fear except if he is pro-Palestinian. They should all die!”)

Should he have been sacked? I’m opposed to people losing their jobs, particularly over speech, so on balance, I’d say no: although Editors, by their nature, do have the right to police their own publications, the best papers are tolerant to the idiosyncracies of their writers.

By contrast, the 1982 diatribe constituted something well beyond racism. It was a call to murder his fellow countrymen.