The John Galliano anti-Semitism scandal is something that has entirely consumed my life this past week, and it’s not just because I work for a fashion blog — it’s because I also happen to be Jewish.
I am not an authority. I do not in any way speak for all Jews, but I can at least attempt to share the feelings of a Jewish fashion blogger and her Jewish family and friends. To give some background, I attended Jewish day school for nine years and went to Jewish summer camps. Both my high school and college had healthy Jewish populations. I identify with Judaism as a culture more so than as a religion, a common experience among many young American Jews.
Jews make up 0.2% of the world population, as in one fifth of one percent of all of the people in the entire world. There are approximately 13.4 million of us. (For comparison, 37.3 million people live in the state of California alone.) These are numbers that have astounded me my entire life, simultaneously filling me with a sense of pride and uneasiness. It is estimated that 13 million people died in the Holocaust, 6 million of which were Jews.
The Holocaust is the most disturbing and painful chapter in modern Jewish history. “Never forget,” we are told over and over again. Never forget, so such an atrocity never happens again. My family was lucky — both my mother and father’s families immigrated to the United States well before World War II. This is not the case for many Jews of European descent.
When news of Galliano spouting anti-Semitic slurs broke, I didn’t want to believe it. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, innocent until proven guilty and all that. Galliano is one of my favorite designers, after all. His fall 2008 Dior couture show moved me in a way I never knew a runway show could. But when that infamous video leaked, I knew it would be his demise. I also knew it would be something I would discuss ad nauseam, in both my professional and personal lives.
I cannot cast judgment on Galliano’s character. From all accounts, his anti-Semitic remarks came as a total shock. But what he said in the video is still inexcusable. Whether or not he was drunk, and whether or not he said such things in jest, is irrelevant. It is not about his intent (because we really can’t speculate about that), the real issue is that he said horribly offensive things relating to a traumatic event that Jews feel incredibly sensitive about. I do not know if Galliano is an anti-Semite, but I do know that what he said qualifies as anti-Semitic.
I have heard comments like Galliano’s before, made by Jews and non-Jews alike, some of whom were drunk and some of whom were stone-cold sober. Rarely has there been hatred behind such words; more often than not they have been words permeated by carelessness. As an American Jew who grew up in a major metropolitan area and attended liberal schools all my life, I have never been subject to any blatant or malicious anti-Semitism, but anti-Semitic comments (especially those relating to the Holocaust) never fail to deeply upset me regardless of the motivation involved.
Then there’s the issue of the incident being taped. It is still unclear if this video was recorded the night of the alleged altercation, but it doesn’t really matter. Though some found the leaking of the clip odiously opportunistic, Galliano said what he said, regardless of context. You should always own up to what you say — whether it be in public or private, on the record or off.
I’ve been disappointed by the fashion world’s response thus far, and even more disappointed by the deafening silence of Jewish members of the fashion community. I want to know what Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan think. I want to know what Diane von Furstenberg, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, thinks. I want to know what Israelis Yigal Azrouël, Elie Tahari and Alber Elbaz (who very well may replace Galliano at Dior) think. I want to hear from Marc Jacobs and Isaac Mizrahi and Zac Posen. Because even though Jews make up 0.2% of the population, sometimes it feels like they all ended up in fashion.
As proud Jew and lover of fashion Natalie Portman so eloquently put it: “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.”