Galliano arrest spotlights rise in anti-Semitism

Designer is the latest celebrity mired in controversy as attacks on Jews increase

The arrest and suspension of couture designer John Galliano, amid allegations of a booze-fuelled outburst this weekend in a Paris district known for its Jewish community, has reinforced reports of an alarming increase in anti-Semitism.

The French fashion house Christian Dior suspended the designer in the aftermath of what is being described as a drunken confrontation with a couple in the Marais district.

Claims by the pair, denied by Galliano, that he used anti-Jewish and racist slurs against them drew him into a welter of controversy which has most recently led to career trouble for the actors Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson.

Galliano's representatives were last night trying to limit the damage caused by the controversy. His lawyer said the designer intended to claim for defamation and injury against his accusers and pronounced him shocked that Dior had suspended him.

The move came just days after the CBS television network pulled one of America's biggest comedy TV shows, Two and a Half Men. Although Charlie Sheen had tested the company's patience with cocaine and drink-fuelled binges, hotel-room orgies of violence and numerous tabloid eruptions, he overstepped the mark when he appeared to flirt with anti-Semitism in a radio broadcast, referring to the show's creator Chuck Lorre by the Hebrew name Chaim last Thursday.

Hollywood star Mel Gibson suffered another recent postponement of his latest film, The Beaver, capping nearly five years of serious career problems since he was recorded making anti-Semitic comments during a drink-driving arrest in 2006.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center last week highlighted what it suggests is an ongoing problem, with its list of the 10 most high profile anti-Semitic outbursts of 2010.

In the UK, the Community Security Trust, an advisory body for British Jews, warned of a steady increase in attacks in the UK since 1984, with 639 anti-Semitic incidents last year. This was the topped only by a freak jump in numbers the previous year during Israeli military operations in Gaza. Across Europe, monitoring groups report growing concern. On last year's 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, vandals marked at least 18 gravestones with swastikas when they desecrated a Jewish cemetery in France. France's main Jewish organisation, CRIF, said that 13 tombstones at the Cronenbourg cemetery in Strasbourg had also been overturned.

And in the former Soviet Union, anti-Semitic and ultranationalist skinheads increasingly profess themselves above the law. A judge withdrew from a politically charged Moscow murder trial this month involving fascists Nikita Tikhonov and Evgeniya Khasis, who are accused of killing human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova in January 2009.

The sentencing judge for the trial, Eduard Chuvashov, was shot dead in April last year.

Star's dilemma

For what she must hope is her crowning moment at tonight's Oscars for her role in Black Swan, Natalie Portman will have wished for anything but the last-minute fashion crisis she now faces.

She is among a gaggle of high-profile guests, who, having been painstakingly fitted with one of Galliano's frocks, face a daunting decision over which dress to wear to the ball.

Galliano's alleged rant could see both Portman and her peers obliged to answer the most untimely and unwanted questions on anti-Semitism.

Penélope Cruz wore Galliano at last year's awards, as did Cameron Diaz, while Charlize Theron, Slumdog Millionaire's Freida Pinto, and Heidi Klum are known to be a fans.

Meanwhile, the model Kate Moss recently revealed she asked Galliano to design the dress for her wedding later this year.

Andrew McCorkell and Chris Stevenson