Define ‘anti-Semitism;’ give one example

It’s newspaper-style puzzler time.

As a journalist, I know why we are supposed to use the word “alleged” over and over in crime stories. The accused is not guilty until his or her trial has been completed.

Now, this drumbeat use of “alleged” may drive readers crazy — as in the “pilots who allegedly flew the planes into the two towers” — but it is a linguistic device that represents an important legal reality.

However, I have to admit that a twist in the language that frames the following Los Angeles Times report drives me a bit nuts, as in, more nutty than usual. Yes, it’s about THAT STORY from the world of allegedly high fashion. Here’s the top of the report:

As Paris Fashion Week began … there was only one thing anyone could talk about.

The venerable French haute couture house of Christian Dior, credited with putting Paris fashion back on the map after World War II, was rocked in scandal. John Galliano, the flamboyant fashion designer at the helm of the luxury label, and a man known for his over-the-top runway collections, romanticism and love of the bias cut, was being fired. Not because of a collection of clothes but because of a collection of words.

The fast-moving chain of events began … when Galliano was arrested in the Paris bar La Perle, accused of hurling anti-Semitic insults at a nearby couple in an alleged violation of French laws designed to curb anti-Semitism. Dior, where he’s worked for nearly 15 years, suspended him Friday pending investigation. … (A)nother woman came forward with a similar complaint. And … video began surfacing on the Internet apparently showing an earlier incident involving Galliano, who appears to be drunk, taunting two off-screen women, saying he “loved Hitler” and that their ancestors should be “gassed … and dead.”

Now, I understand why the word “alleged” is used in the sentence that raises the question of whether Galliano has violated French laws, in effect, on hate speech. In France it is much easier to go on trial for offensive words than in the United States of America (thus the Westboro Baptist Church crew).

However, here is what has me confused.

Please recall that the famous designer’s remarks are on tape. There are few, if any, questions about what he said or did not say.

Thus, here is the question that we face: Is there any question whether it is anti-Semitism to tell Jews that their loved ones should have been “gassed … and dead” during the Holocaust? What if Mel Gibson had made this remark, on tape? (The remark about loving Hitler is a bit harder to nail down.)

Thus, what irked me was the headline on the story:

Galliano’s alleged anti-Semitic remarks unleash a storm

Once again, I know that it is “alleged” that he broke the French law. Got it.

But is it “alleged” that he made anti-Semitic remarks, in light of the fact that the words are on tape? I am questioning the headline.

In effect, I am asking if it can be stated as fact that the words that journalists know that he spoke can be accurately described as anti-Semitic. Or, has relativism made this term impossible to define and defend? Is it now impossible to make a factual statement that a person has uttered words that are anti-Semitic?

Just asking.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • joye

    My impression of “alleged” is that “alleged” is referring to the fact that it may not be proved in a court of law that the accused did the act, not that the act itself, if it happened as reported, isn’t what it is.

    For example, if witnesses and tv cameras record someone shooting someone else in the head, the news reports will still be saying “Smith allegedly shot his ex-wife in the head at the State Fair in front of a crowd of dozens and a local tv news crew.” Nobody is arguing that the “alleged” here means “no shooting happened” or a relativistic “it’s impossible to define what ‘shot in the head’ means”. Likewise, I don’t think “alleged” in this case means “it isn’t proven that it wasn’t anti-Semitic.” It’s just “it hasn’t yet been legally established that this crime was committed in this fashion.”

    If Galliano hadn’t done this in France, but rather in the US, the “alleged” wouldn’t be there, just like it wasn’t for Gibson’s odious remarks.

    I’ve got some of the most sensitive relativism radar around and even I think you’re reaching here.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    From two days ago:

    “Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan says his comments on Jews are meant “to pull the cover off Satan” and “Zionists dominate the US government and banks.”

    Anti-Semitic?

  • joye

    Gah, typo. That should be, of course:

    Likewise, I don’t think “alleged” in this case means “it isn’t proven that it [it being what he is recorded saying] is anti-Semitic.”

  • Julia

    Is it now impossible to make a factual statement that a person has uttered words that are anti-Semitic?

    It’s entirely possible that “anti-Semitic” is now a legal term in France, like “murder” or “burglary”, with a very specific legal meaning. It remains to be proved/successfully argued that what you see on the tape fits the legal definition.

  • Martha

    Have to agree with all the above – “alleged” in this instance is more like newspapers having to be careful not to prejudice the outcome of a trial by having potential jurors possibly reading the articles claiming “Smith did the shooting” and not “Smith allegedly did the shooting”.

    On the other hand, do we know that the “two off-screen women” in the Internet video clip that he allegedly told “their ancestors should be “gassed … and dead.”” were Jewish, and not (say) Romany? Hitler targeted all the populations he thought needed to be wiped out, and the Gypsies were included in that. That too could be a reason for the allegedness of the anti-Semitism; is it anti-Semitic to insult someone who’s not Jewish with a taunt usually used against Jews?

  • Kevin

    I think that Dior was excellent in having gotten rid of Galliano. I was just appalled by the things that he had allegedly said in the first incident and then once the video came out, I just felt that it was absolutely disgusting. It’s comforting to know that even a large company like Dior can have standards and face Antisemitism.

  • davidc

    There’s no verifiable information available that the women in the video incident were Jewish. Some sources have stated that they weren’t. Also, if you want to talk about the usage of ”alleged” in connection with what you state to be sure about what’s said in the video, then you probably need to watch it properly yourself. He does not say ”should”, he says ”would”. The difference between these two immensely simple and yet consistently reported as interchangeable usages in this particular context is so vital as to approximate profound.

    Given that he said ”would” and, as you have posited, that the women in question were indeed Jewish, then surely his statement is not antisemitism but one of fact. Or is simply questioning references to the Holocaust in a manner that isn’t seen to be taken some kind of extreme position now considered antisemitism, too?

    I’ve never been an antisemite or any kind of bigot and I like to think the reason I am is because I can think for myself without resorting to hysterical knee-jerk reactions of any kind. For that reason, I know a drunk idiot spewing rubbish to annoy other people and a malevolent individual spinning hate speech. Guess which one Galliano isn’t?

    Here’s the video again from the source that first broke it. Note how the video starts in the middle of a conversation. A conversation not you, nor I, nor anyone else bar its original participants has been privy to. Note how one of the woman says ”… it’s not good” and Galliano replies ”No, I know, I’m playing”. Note how the word ”Jew” or the word ”jewish” isn’t stated once.

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3436757/Film-of-John-Gallianos-racist-rant-in-bar.html

    I’m all for taking down monsters but this is one of the worst instances I have ever seen of totally unjustified persecution. Before you write opinion pieces based on grand senses of morality, verify your facts and check your conscience.

  • http://podles.org Lee Podles

    I think that “Galliano allegedly made anti-Semitic remarks” would be better. There is no question that the remarks are anti-Semitic. But did he make them? Images can be manipulated, and witnesses can be mistaken or lie. That is up for the court (if it gets that far) to determine.

  • Mike

    Similar situation in Tucson where the gunman is still called the “alleged shooter,” although there was a crowd of witnesses and he was tackled in the act by citizens. This is a caution that is drilled into journalists from Day One: Don’t say anyone is guilty until they are convicted. In some cases, such as the Tucson and Christian Dior situtions, the policy borders on the absurd.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    FOLKS:

    As the post makes clear, I understand the alleged reference in the legal context in the story — in the context of FRANCE. The headline was what bugged me.

    Do you think that if Mel Gibson or another controversial figure in American made those remarks on tape, we’d be using “alleged” in the headline?

  • Mike

    It’s unclear whether the headline refers to whether the remarks were even made or whether they were anti-Semitic.

    My hunch is that the headline writer is being legally cautious: They are not anti-Semitic until they are proven in court to be anti-Semitic, even though everyone knows they are anti-Semitic. These days you can never discount some wacko judge going against common sense. Or he’ll be found not guilty because he was drunk and didn’t mean or know what he was saying, etc. etc.

    But responding to the question about whether “alleged” would be used if these same words had come from the mouth of Mel Gilbson or some other similar sort: Of course not.

  • Dave

    I grew up in Cleveland during the Sam Shepherd case. Reversal of his conviction due in part to the circus-like atmosphere created by local media evidently singed the journalistic hide in a good way, in that nobody at least in the responsible, professional media is going to try a case in print again. If a comparable caution is stalking Europe, so much the better.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/beliefbeat Nicole Neroulias

    On the other hand, do we know that the “two off-screen women” in the Internet video clip that he allegedly told “their ancestors should be “gassed … and dead.”” were Jewish, and not (say) Romany? Hitler targeted all the populations he thought needed to be wiped out, and the Gypsies were included in that. That too could be a reason for the allegedness of the anti-Semitism; is it anti-Semitic to insult someone who’s not Jewish with a taunt usually used against Jews?

    Even more interesting: as an openly gay man, John Galliano would have been one of Hitler’s targets, too. (Perhaps this adds to the “alleged” fodder?)

    In addition to the legal issues that previous comments have elaborated on, another tricky angle on throwing “anti-Semitic” around in news stories is that this term means different things to different people, particularly outside of the United States. (For example, what Helen Thomas said last year could have been described as anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian or anti-Semitic — but in America, it was most commonly described as the latter.) I’ve repeatedly heard Greeks, Cypriots and Arabs say the term should not be used to describe anti-Jewish sentiment because Semitic people are a broader group that includes Palestinians and other Middle Eastern communities. (Reminds me a bit of the “Islamophobia” debate that GetReligion stirs up every now and then.)

  • ralphie44

    an anti-semite is anyone a jew doesnt like
    an anti-semite is anyone who speaks the truth about israel, judaism, jewish culture, or jewish group behaviour and organized criminality


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