Charlie Sheen, John Galliano, Julian Assange: Anti-Semitic Celebrity Meltdowns

Charlie Sheen, John Galliano, and Julian Assange are all being accused of attacking Jews. Eric Alterman reports on the fallout—and why the Chosen People should not be shaking in their boots.

As any political organization can tell you, the most effective way to get the world's attention for your issue is to convince a celebrity to take it up as his or her own. In a funny way therefore, Charlie Sheen, John Galliano and Julian Assange, albeit accidentally, have given Abe Foxman and his Anti-Defamation League one of the best weeks of their collective lives.

It's not every day that a group gets to witness not one but three world-famous celebrities make complete idiots of themselves in support of your cause. In the case of Galliano, the sequence is almost too perfect; as if God were playing a joke on the real anti-Semites. "I Love Hitler"? "Dirty Jewish face…you should be dead…". That he wouldn't want peace with "people [such as herself] who are ugly."

I mean, rhully…. Not even the Nazis in Hogan's Heroes were this stupid. (To be honest, not even Mel Gibson sounds this stupid.) And to top it all off, we get to see the beautiful, sexy, pregnant and recently crowned queen of Hollywood, the Israeli-born, Harvard-educated Natalie Portman call him on the carpet on behalf of the Chosen People in extremely well, um, chosen words: "In light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way. I hope at the very least, these terrible comments remind us to reflect and act upon combating these still-existing prejudices that are the opposite of all that is beautiful."

Dior fired Galliano within seconds of this story breaking and issued a statement that the company "unequivocally condemn the statements made by John Galliano which are in total contradiction to the longstanding core values of Christian Dior." It was a win-win for everyone. For surely if the fear regarding ant-Semitism is that it will likely spread if given voice by a prominent public voice, then this was a major-league loss for the bad guys. In fact, to imagine a worse spokesman for the cause of Jew-hating, you'd have to draft, well, you guessed it…Charlie Sheen.

If the fear regarding ant-Semitism is that it will likely spread if given voice by a prominent public voice, then this was a major-league loss for the bad guys.

To be fair, even if Sheen were as anti-Semitic as say, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it would probably be the least of his problems. But Sheen's case is complicated by the inferences necessary to convict him. In a radio interview late last week with Alex Jones, Sheen repeatedly referred to the executive producer of Two and a Half Men, whom he apparently loathes, as "Chaim Levine." So some Jews are a little upset with Charlie for using the Hebrew School name for Chuck Lorre—who was born Charles Michael Levine—at a time when he wanted to attack him. The complication arises from the fact that Lorre has used this name for himself on occasion, and in Hollywood, it's hardly unusual, even for goyim, to throw in a Yiddish term of endearment. In fact it's often obligatory. The ADL is unhappy, but the ADL doesn't even like anything that implies that more than a few children of Moses happen to work in high positions in Hollywood. (Ask Joel Stein about the problem, if you beg to differ.)

Sheen is asking for an apology from the ADL and he might have had a stronger case were it not for the fact that, a) he mentioned to Howard Stern that he was a "huge fan" of that "beautiful man," um, Mel Gibson, and b) ex-wife Brooke Mueller says Sheen sent her a text that read, "I must execute mark [Sheen's manager, Mark Burg] like the stoopid jew pig that he is." But Sheen says his ex-wife set him up with phony texts. And Burg told the gossip site, TMZ: "Charlie Sheen's ex-publicist, Stan Rosenfield, is Jewish. Charlie Sheen's entertainment attorney, Jake Bloom, is Jewish. Charlie Sheen's litigation attorney, Marty Singer, is Jewish. Charlie Sheen's divorce attorney, Mark Gross, is Jewish. I've known him for 13 years. I don't believe that he actually sent that text." And he throws in for good measure that "since Brooke Mueller is Jewish that would make Charlie Sheen's two sons also Jewish." So is Sheen a Jew-hater? No, I don't think so, but I don't blame the ADL for being pissed about Charlie revealing (again) that pretty much everyone in Hollywood is a member of this one extremely entertaining tribe.

The case of Mr. Assange is similarly vexing. With Assange facing rape charges in Sweden, the collapse of his decidedly disorganized organization, WikiLeaks, and a U.S. government effort to find him guilty of something that would allow his indefinite jailing—and I haven't even mentioned the neocon pundits inviting his assassination—well, Assange-Judaic relations are not high on anybody's list of the man's problems, even that of his enemies. Still, it was enough of a news item when Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, quoted Assange complaining about the "sort of Jewish" media conspiracy he felt to be persecuting him of late. Assange denies it. He issued a statement that read that "'in particular' the Private Eye report that he believed in a 'Jewish conspiracy' is false, in spirit and in word. It is serious and upsetting." Again, to be fair, Hislop took no notes on the conversation and turns out to be " the most sued man in English legal history" (as befits an editor of Private Eye). And if Assange is looking for evidence of a media conspiracy against him by his former allies, he might fairly wonder when The New York Times began publishing second-hand accounts of conversations without any independent confirmation of its own. (Wasn't that what got Judith Miller in so much trouble?)

In truth, as far as actual anti-Semitism existing in places where it might do some real Jews genuine harm—rather than merely get Abe Foxman's letters to the editor of The Times printed—the good guys had a genuinely terrific week. The Pope happened to take time out from his busy schedule to renounce the most damaging anti-Semitic canard of all human history—that the Jews murdered Christ. Anti-Semitic incidents are down 50 percent in France, and in really big news (thanks, I must add, to Mr. Assange and company), a classified cable from U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle, sent in late 2009 but released yesterday by WikiLeaks, says Russia has shown "clear signs of throwing off its long and tragic history of anti-Semitism.". Oh, and Chicago elected Rahm Emanuel, its first Jewish mayor ever. And no one cared.

To all of that that I say Mazel Tov, and John, Charlie, and Julian, have a glass of Manischewitz Concord Grape on me.

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Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, a senior fellow of the Center for American Progress and media columnist for The Nation. His most recent book is Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama.