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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”