Sarkozy and Son

Fri, Oct 23, 2009

sine cartoon from Charlie Hebdo
image from rue89.com

It's not clear whether the fire-bombings of French synagogues during Israel's actions against Gaza last winter were the criminal acts of Muslim extremists or French anti-Semites; most likely, both, parallel fanaticisms finding common cause in race hatred. The epic documentary we're showing on Sunday, November 1, Being Jewish in France, was finished before that episode of anti-Jewish violence occurred, but it served as a reminder that the specter of anti-Semitism continues to darken even the most self-styled "enlightened" countries. It also points up Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters, still – the title of Louis Begley's new book, subject of an expert commentary by Adam Gopnik in a recent issue of the New Yorker.

I thought about some of these issues this morning when reading that French President Nicolas Sarkozy's middle son, Jean, 23, had voluntarily removed himself from being considered for a high-level government job in the financial sector, this after a barrage of complaints of nepotism (largely warranted, at least in my view). At any rate, he took the high road and stepped down in advance. But a few of the commentaries on this detoured into Jean's previous "scandal" last year, when he married his high-school sweetheart, Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, an heiress to the Darty retail chain and, as it happens, Jewish.
Nicholas Sarkozy and his brothers hadn't known about their own Jewish roots until their grandfather died in 1972 and their mother finally told them (much of her family had converted to Catholicism after World War I; despite that, dozens of them died in the Holocaust). At the time of Jean's wedding, a satirical magazine columnist, Maurice Sinet ("Siné") had written an article that insinuated a link between conversion to Judaism and social success; that is, the writer was repeating an untrue rumor that Jean was about to convert to Judaism because of the prestige and wealth of his wife's family. Sinet was promptly fired from the journal and soon faced the legal charge of “inciting racial hatred.” (He made his remarks, by the way, in the pages of Charlie Hebdo, the same magazine that had earlier printed the riot-causing Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed).

Though some columnists (including a NYTOp-Ed writer) claimed that the "L'affaire Siné" was the Dreyfus Affair for our times, and though it has provoked ongoing debate among France's chattering classes, it doesn't seem to have mutated into a scandal of anywhere near that consequence; at any rate, as it still languishes within the French legal system, it's become more about the limits of public speech than about Sarkozy, father or son, which is maybe as it should be. Mais quand même; but even still….

—Bill Horrigan, October 23

Jean Dubuffet, Vaches au pre (Cows in a meadow), 1954

Reserve your tickets now for Transfigurations: Modern Masters from the Wexner Family Collection, on view through Dec 31. Learn more about the exhibition.

Artists featured in Transfigurations: Modern Masters from the Wexner Family Collection

Learn more about the artists represented in Transfigurations at our dedicated website. (Educators will also find curriculum resources to support their K–12 classrooms.)