Just when John Galliano thought he was on the verge of rehabilitation after a drunken anti-Semitic diatribe in 2011 got him arrested, an online petition is seeking to get him fired before he even teaches one class here at Parsons The New School for Design.
Parsons had announced last week that the 52-year-old designer agreed to teach without pay a three-day fashion-design master class called “Show Me Emotion.” The school called Galliano a “living legend,” a “technical genius,” and a “master of tailoring, construction, research and thematic investigation.”
But to the Jewish Student Union at The New School, Galliano has no place at its school and his hiring “upsets and disgraces so many students who call the school home.”
Jennifer Kaplan, president of the group, said in an e-mail that her organization started the online petition “because members felt so uncomfortable with his hiring.”
“The New School has a history of being a safe place for Jews, especially with The New School in Exile taking in Jewish intellectuals from Nazi Germany,” she pointed out.
The petition noted that actress Natalie Portman, who is Jewish, refused to associate with Galliano because of his anti-Semitic rant and it questioned why he was hired. The petition has received more than 1,000 signatures.
Through a publicist, Liz Rosenberg, Galliano declined an interview request from The Jewish Week.
Galliano was arrested two years ago for allegedly telling a woman at a Paris bar: “Dirty Jew, you should be dead.” Dior suspended him after that incident but later fired him when a video surfaced of Galliano at the same bar in December 2010 in which he allegedly told two women: “Your mothers, your forefathers would all be f***g gassed and f***g dead. I love Hitler.” That video is included on the petition’s website.
Although the incident took place in the traditional Jewish quarter of Paris, none of those involved were Jewish.
In their online petition, the Jewish students said the fact that Galliano had been hired for only a three-day workshop was irrelevant.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s for three months or three days, hiring someone who has made such horrific comments shows that the school values Galliano over their entire Jewish student body,” it said. “It shows they value him over their students’ respect, peace of mind, and heritage. It is disgraceful to hire someone who has made such inhumane comments.
“There should be no room for this kind of person as a staff member on the faculty at Parsons. Imagine if the school were hiring a person who publicly voiced support for the KKK — there would likely be backlash because it’s not right to have someone like that teaching at a school. But because this is someone who has made anti-Semitic remarks, people are willing to look the other way. This is unacceptable.”
Parsons refused through a spokeswoman to comment on the petition drive, but it issued a statement saying the school affords its students an opportunity to “learn from the world’s leading designers.”
“The planned workshop with John Galliano will be a dynamic and intimate opportunity for our students to learn from an immensely talented designer,” it said.
In a reference to Galliano’s anti-Semitic tirade, Parsons said: “We believe that over the past two years Mr. Galliano has demonstrated a serious intent to make amends for his past actions, and as part of this workshop, Parsons students will have the opportunity to engage in a frank conversation with Mr. Galliano about the challenges and complications of leading a design house in the 21st century.”
In January, Galliano was photographed during Fashion Week dressed in an outfit some saw as mocking chasidic Jews. The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement praising Galliano for “changing his worldview” after spending a “significant amount of time researching, reading and learning about the evils of anti-Semitism and bigotry. Along his journey to recovery he met with us on numerous occasions. He has accepted full responsibility for his previous remarks and understands that hurtful comments have no place in our society. …. We believe that individuals can change their hearts and minds as long as they demonstrate true contrition.”
At the time, Galliano said in a statement that he “remains committed to making amends to those I have hurt.”
But those signing the online petition are not as forgiving. One student criticized the school for believing that “anti-Semitic remarks can be swept under the rug. … He can’t be put in a position of influencing young minds. Particularly in this industry … respect for all and tolerance are key.”
Another wrote: “As a CEO of a fashion company, I feel it is horrible to allow such a person to teach developing minds.”
But readers of the online editor of the British publication the Daily Mail were more forgiving.
“Love how people are quick to judge the mistakes of others,” wrote one. “Please. As if no one has said or done something stupid.”
Wrote another: “We have a thing called free speech here. I was raised Jewish and I think this man is a fashion genius. … Not smart in terms of fashion, but amazing. I would love to learn about fashion from him.”