News / Arts & Entertainment

French Comic Stirs Outrage for Anti-Semitic Gesture

FILE - French comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala at the French Interior Ministry in Paris, May 13, 2009.
FILE - French comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala at the French Interior Ministry in Paris, May 13, 2009.
Lisa Bryant
Authorities in France are moving to bar performances of a controversial comedian for his anti-Semitic remarks and a gesture he invented that Jewish groups liken to a Nazi salute. Anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial are sensitive issues in France, which is haunted by its wartime past - and by more recent attacks on the country's Jewish community. But, the issue is not so simple.
 
Sacha Reingewirtz hears the song on the streets sometimes. It's called Shoah Nanas - or Holocaust Pineapples. It went viral on the Internet not so long ago - one of many jabs against Jews by 46-year-old French comic, Dieudonné M'bala M'bala.

"A lot of people are frightened. I'm talking especially about Jewish students. When they hear people singing the songs about the Holocaust that Dieudonné created, this is for them very offensive, very frightening," said Reingewirtz.

Dieudonné - who goes only by his first name - is stirring fresh controversy these days with another creation: a straight-armed gesture he calls the quenelle. The word is usually associated with a regional fish dish. The quenelle gesture has been flashed on football fields and in mocking photos snapped outside Jewish institutions.

Dieudonné says it's anti-establishment, not anti-Semitic. But Jewish groups liken it to a Nazi salute.

Now, as the French government tries to crack down on Dieudonné, it is confronting a raft of challenges, from traditional free speech concerns to an arguably new brand of anti-Semitism. Even if the government stops the comic's performances in theaters - which it's trying to do - Dieudonné draws a massive audience in cyberspace.

"The Internet offers a springboard for Dieudonné and his supporters. And you often see on YouTube, for instance, Dieudonné's videos being viewed by over two million users. And this is phenomenal," Reingewirtz said.

French officials appear to be winning the first round. As Dieudonné begins a national tour this week, several municipalities have banned the comic from performing his one-man show, following a government call to do so on public order grounds. Authorities are also investigating him for suspected money laundering.

On Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande urged local authorities to abide by the ban.

Ii is important to be vigilant and inflexible against racism and anti-Semitism, which are humiliating and discriminatory and could disrupt public order," Hollande said.

Jewish leaders like Roger Cukierman, president of the Jewish umbrella organization CRIF, hail the government's swift action.

"The atmosphere that Dieudonné prepares contributes to violence, undoubtedly," he said. "Because it spreads, in the minds of weak people, hatred for the Jews. And from hate you go to violence."

But critics say the government is going too far. Dieudonné's lawyers are threatening legal action. Others, like sociologist Michel Wieviorka, believe authorities and the media are overreacting.

"The government is fighting against Dieudonné. But you don't need a 10-ton big machine to fight against a fly," he said. "So there is a lot of excess, a lot of discourse. And this is also highly political. Because in this situation, I think the government also wants absolutely to be clear with the Jewish political audience."

France faces municipal elections in March, and Hollande and his governing Socialists are not very popular.

Dieudonne's quenelle has traveled far beyond his shows. Sports figures like French soccer player Nicolas Anelka and basketball star Tony Parker have made the gesture. Both have since apologized, saying they didn't realize what it suggested.

Other people have snapped photos of themselves signaling quenelles in front of Holocaust sites and a school in Toulouse where several Jews were gunned down in 2012.

Wieviorka says Dieudonné's fans represent a melting pot.

"At the same time, you would have people saying they love Dieudonné, some of them being nationalist, extreme right, Catholic and so on. French, very French. And some others being immigrants, not necessarily French, and very critical of the French idea of a nation," he said.

Wieviorka believes they reflect a new brand of anti-Semitism in France.

"This new anti-Semitism is not saying that Jews are destroying the French nation. The problem of the people who hate Jews today is not to promote the French nation," he said. "This new anti-Semitism is much more saying that Jews are hostile to Arabs, to Muslims, to Islam."

But Dieudonné defies easy stereotypes. Born in Paris to a Cameroonian father and French mother, he earned fame in the 1990s as a double act with a Jewish comedian and childhood friend. The two later fell out, and Dieudonné became close to the far-right. He says he embraces anti-Zionism, rather than anti-Semitism.

Fans praise Dieudonné's skits, which also skewer Muslims and homosexuals. They say it's a comic's right to make fun of sensitive subjects.

But Jewish student union leader Reingewirtz, sees nothing funny about Dieudonné.

"What we see with Dieudonné is that he's using very old stereotypes. He's talking about Jews manipulating the world, manipulating finance," he said. "So he's using new forms of expression via the Internet, but his argument is just a very classic type of anti-Semitism."

At a time when many French are worried about the economy and jobs, Reingewirtz says, Diedonne is blaming the Jews for their problems. And that, he says, appears to be resonating in France.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings: Nnekai
|| 0:00:00
...  
🔇
X
August 26, 2015 2:42 PM
Nigerian singer, songwriter Nneka sits down with Border Crossings host Larry London to perform songs from her latest CD, "My Fairy Tales" and to talk about her inspirations and influences.

Nigerian singer, songwriter Nneka sits down with Border Crossings host Larry London to perform songs from her latest CD, "My Fairy Tales" and to talk about her inspirations and influences.