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

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
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 Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
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 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 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.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

Hamilton Live: Dustbowl Revivali
|| 0:00:00
...  
🔇
X
September 02, 2015 12:19 PM
Dustbowl Revival is an American roots orchestra with eight full-time members who performed live at "The Hamilton" songs from their new CD, "With A Lampshade On."

Dustbowl Revival is an American roots orchestra with eight full-time members who performed live at "The Hamilton" songs from their new CD, "With A Lampshade On."