Cartoonist gets death threats over Sarkozy 'Jew' quip
Adam Sage in Paris
Police are investigating alleged death threats against a left-wing cartoonist denounced as an anti-Semite for suggesting that Jean Sarkozy, the son of the French President, was converting to Judaism for financial reasons.
The threats came amid a vitriolic row that has divided the Parisian intelligentsia into supporters and opponents of Maurice Sinet, 79, who works under the pen name Siné.
In the latest development in a controversy marked by insults, libel claims and mud-slinging, the anti-capitalist cartoonist filed a lawsuit with police over what he said were death threats on a Jewish Defence League website.
In an apparent call to stab him a message from a site user said: “20 centimetres of stainless steel in the stomach, that should make the son of bitch stop and think.”
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Sinet said: “I didn't really want to file a lawsuit but my wife is getting seriously upset.”
In a society still marked by the scars of the Alfred Dreyfus affair — the Jewish army captain accused of spying by anti-Semitic forces in the 19th century — the cartoonist has found himself at the heart of heated debate over French attitudes to Judaism.
L'affaire Siné, as it is known, began a month ago when the cartoonist wrote a column in Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly, about the engagement of Mr Sarkozy, 21, to Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, the Jewish heiress of an electronic goods chain.
Sinet repeated an unfounded rumour that the son of the President planned to become Jewish and added: “He'll go a long way in life, that little lad.”
The remark caused fury amid claims that it alluded to age-old prejudices about Jews and money.
With the press speculating that Mr Sarkozy could sue Charlie Hebdo, Philippe Val, its editor, asked Sinet to apologise.
“I'd rather cut my balls off,” he replied.
He was fired and Mr Val said that his comments “could be interpreted as making a link between the conversion to Judaism and social success and that was neither acceptable nor defendable in court”.
The move was applauded by antiracist groups but it hit a nerve in the French left-of-centre establishment where Sinet, who rejected the accusations of anti-Semitism, is considered as a libertarian figurehead.
An online petition defending his right to free speech has been signed by more than 8,000 people.
Twenty eminent intellectuals, including the philosopher Bernard-Henry Lévy, wrote to Le Monde to defend the decision to dismiss Sinet.
“Once too often, Siné has crossed the line between humour and insult, caricature and hatred,” they said.
The notorious Dreyfus affair
— Alfred Dreyfus was the son of a wealthy Jewish textile manufacturer
— The army officer was accused of selling military secrets to the German military attaché in 1894
— He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1895
— Doubt about his conviction began to grow when it was discovered that the handwriting on an incriminating letter was that of a Major Esterhazy, who was engaged in espionage
— In 1898 a letter by the novelist Émile Zola, accusing the army of a cover up, was published in Aurore newspaper
— In 1904 the convictions were reversed at a retrial
— The army did not formally declare his innocence until 1995