Row over lingering French antisemitism fuelled by marriage of president's son
· Conversion rumour over wedding to Jewish heiress
· Commentator sacked for 'rehashing stereotype'
He's the 22-year-old blond bombshell son of the French president, whose own political career has turned him into a celebrity. But last night Jean Sarkozy married his childhood sweetheart, a Jewish retailing heiress, in a move that was more than just the latest romantic chapter in the Sarkozy family fairytale. It has also reignited a scathing row over the dark issue of antisemitism in France.
The young Sarkozy - who is still a law student but holds a key position in local politics in his father's former fiefdom, the rich Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine - was reportedly married in a civil service so private that the guests were only notified by text message. His bride, Jessica Sibaoun-Darty, is an heiress to the electrical goods company Darty - a kind of French Argos. They met as high school students growing up in affluent, showbiz Neuilly, and when they got engaged this summer they were quickly feted as France's youngest power couple.
But soon there was a rumour that Jean Sarkozy, a Catholic, had travelled to Israel for religious instruction and was planning to convert to Judaism before marrying. His family has its own Jewish connections: Nicolas Sarkozy's grandfather was a Jewish doctor born in the Greek city of Salonica, now known as Thessaloniki.
After the engagement Maurice Sinet, a veteran cartoonist for the irreverent and deliberately provocative satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, wrote an article under his pen-name Siné, saying Sarkozy Jr "has just said he intends to convert to Judaism before marrying his fiancée, who is Jewish, and the heiress to the founders of Darty. He'll go far, that kid."
Siné was sacked by the magazine's editor, who said his remarks "could be interpreted as drawing a link between conversion to Judaism and social success", rehashing the old stereotype linking Jews and money. Last month antisemitic graffiti against Jean Sarkozy appeared on walls in Neuilly, reading: "Sarkozy, Jewish thieves", and police arrested a suspect.
Siné, who denied claims of antisemitism and has lodged a legal complaint, saying death threats had been made against him, launched his own magazine yesterday in which he said he would defend freedom of speech. The International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism has brought a court case against him for incitement to racial hatred, citing the Jean Sarkozy article and another about Muslim women who wear headscarves.
The row has fed the debate about antisemitism in France, which has Europe's largest Jewish population and where the spectre remains of historic cases of antisemitism and the deportation of Jews during the second world war.
Twenty leading writers and politicians, including the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, wrote an open letter to Le Monde last month saying Siné had "crossed the line between humorous insult and hateful caricature" and was rightly sacked.
Jean Sarkozy, a councillor and head of the centre-right local council bloc in the wealthy Hauts-de-Seine district of western Paris, told L'Optimum magazine: "The rumour of conversion is false. And when I read antisemitic remarks on blogs, I'm very shocked; I ask myself where it all comes from and why I'm singled out for such treatment. People seize on a rumour to ask me about possible choices that have nothing to do with my political work."
The young Sarkozy is trying to shed his image as "Monsieur Son Of". But interest in him is outstripping the public appetite for his stepmother, the ex-model and singer Carla Bruni. She appeared on a popular chatshow last weekend but won lower audience ratings than the former first lady Bernadette Chirac did before her.
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