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Topic: Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala

Global Anti-Semitism Continues to Surge

“Anti-Semitism is on the rise,” declares the latest annual survey of global anti-Semitic incidents and expressions from Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute. True, that much we know already, but the Institute’s report for 2013, the latest in a series stretching back more than twenty years, offers some compelling insights as to how this has come about.

Utilizing a methodology that is explained in the report, the Institute determined that there were 554 “violent anti-Semitic acts, perpetrated with weapons or without” in 2013. The highest number of these, 116, occurred in France, where the Jewish community, despite amounting to only one percent of the population, was the target of an astonishing 40 percent of racist assaults the previous year. Additionally, other countries noted a rise in incidents in 2013 when compared with 2012, including Canada (83 compared with 74) and Germany (36 compared with 23.)

Significantly, a rise in incidents was also reported in Russia (15 compared with 11) and Ukraine (23 compared to 15.) Given Vladimir Putin’s cynical exploitation of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, a phenomenon he has subsumed beneath a previously little-known form of prejudice defined as “Russophobia,” the report provides valuable documentation of the persistence of anti-Semitism within those circles loyal to Putin.

Last April, for example, a regime loyalist in the Duma, Irina Yarovaya, fingered television presenter Vladimir Pozner’s Jewish origin as the reason he opposes Putin. The report also quotes Putin himself as having made the blatantly false claim, in June 2013, that 85 percent of Soviet government officials were Jews who had harmed not only their own people, but the entire mosaic of religions and ethnicities in Russia.

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“Anti-Semitism is on the rise,” declares the latest annual survey of global anti-Semitic incidents and expressions from Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute. True, that much we know already, but the Institute’s report for 2013, the latest in a series stretching back more than twenty years, offers some compelling insights as to how this has come about.

Utilizing a methodology that is explained in the report, the Institute determined that there were 554 “violent anti-Semitic acts, perpetrated with weapons or without” in 2013. The highest number of these, 116, occurred in France, where the Jewish community, despite amounting to only one percent of the population, was the target of an astonishing 40 percent of racist assaults the previous year. Additionally, other countries noted a rise in incidents in 2013 when compared with 2012, including Canada (83 compared with 74) and Germany (36 compared with 23.)

Significantly, a rise in incidents was also reported in Russia (15 compared with 11) and Ukraine (23 compared to 15.) Given Vladimir Putin’s cynical exploitation of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, a phenomenon he has subsumed beneath a previously little-known form of prejudice defined as “Russophobia,” the report provides valuable documentation of the persistence of anti-Semitism within those circles loyal to Putin.

Last April, for example, a regime loyalist in the Duma, Irina Yarovaya, fingered television presenter Vladimir Pozner’s Jewish origin as the reason he opposes Putin. The report also quotes Putin himself as having made the blatantly false claim, in June 2013, that 85 percent of Soviet government officials were Jews who had harmed not only their own people, but the entire mosaic of religions and ethnicities in Russia.

Such views feed the growing tendency among nationalist groups to portray the outrages of the Soviet era as “Jewish” crimes. They also fuel the already widespread predilection in Russian society to view Jewish political influence in conspiratorial terms, as evidenced most recently by the assertion of Rory Suchet, an anchor with Russian mouthpiece RT, that “Jewish money controls a huge amount of foreign policy in Washington.” With such enlightened individuals also making the case for Russia’s seizure of Crimea, it beggars belief that anyone could take at face value Putin’s insistence that he is defending Jewish rights, even if anti-Semitism does remain a real and worrying phenomenon in Ukraine.

The surge of anti-Semitism in Europe’s post-Communist states is particularly pronounced in Hungary. Alongside France and Belgium, the report points out, Hungary is the country where “the situation seems to be the worst.” While the recent election in which one in five Hungarians voted for the neo-Nazi Jobbik party falls outside the report’s timeframe, the analysis here contributes a great deal to our understanding of that outcome.

Physical attacks on Hungary’s approximately 100,000 Jews are, says the report, still rare. However, the discourse of anti-Semitism has swelled to such an extent that the prominent Hungarian rabbi Shlomo Koves says “you can feel it” in the street. Jobbik is not the only culprit; anti-Semites are visible among the entourage of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who condemned anti-Semitism in general terms when addressing the World Jewish Congress plenary in Budapest, but studiously avoided any mention of Jobbik specifically.

Jobbik is important because, in many ways, the party represents the future of anti-Semitism in Europe. Classified as a far right party, Jobbik is not dissimilar from other racist organizations in Eastern Europe insofar as it operates a uniformed paramilitary arm and glorifies the country’s collaborationist leadership during the Second World War. However, in its strident attacks against Zionism and Israel, Jobbik sounds like it could belong to the far left just as easily. The anti-Zionist statements that Jobbik leader Gabor Vona has uttered publicly include the line that “Israel operates the world’s largest concentration camp,” a theme that is common in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement in the United States and Western Europe.

As the Roth Institute report makes clear, this merging of far left and far right expressions of anti-Semitism is visible elsewhere in Europe. In France especially, the popularization of the quenelle, an inverted Nazi salute pioneered by Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a notorious comedian and rabble rouser, has encouraged what the report calls a “cultural code” of European anti-Semitism, whereby the participation of black and Muslim communities in Jew-hatred is encouraged, and at the same time identification of such incidents as being “anti-Semitic” is willfully denied. As with Jobbik, Dieudonné’s aim is to target Jews while simultaneously denying that we should be concerned by this thing called “anti-Semitism.” The implications of this are enormous, not least for Holocaust commemoration, which Dieudonne tellingly demonizes as “pornography for the memory.” 

The principal impression left by the 2013 report is that the hoary myth of an international Judeo-Zionist conspiracy is what animates anti-Semitism today, and takes it well beyond its traditional white, European heartland. As Professor Robert Wistrich, the world’s leading scholar of anti-Semitism, argues on Israel’s Midah website, the idea of “global Jewish power” has “provided an additional bond between the radical Right in the West, the far Left and militant Muslims from the Middle East.” If current trends continue–and there is, sadly, no reason to expect them not to–those bonds will tighten even further. So will the most disturbing aspect of the report’s findings: the reluctance of most Jews victimized by anti-Semitism to report their experiences in the first place, which suggests that the total number of incidents we know about is merely a shadow of the true figure.

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France’s Problem Bigger Than One Comic

Back in January, we reported here on the way a heretofore-obscure French comedian had popularized the quenelle — a downward facing Nazi salute — had become the symbol of a crucial shift in European culture in which anti-Semitism had become fashionable in some segments of popular culture. Months after Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala had started making international headlines, he has finally made the front page of the New York Times today with a feature that ponders whether efforts by French authorities to crack own on his activities have helped make him even more popular. As Seth Mandell previously noted, efforts to restrict free speech in this manner — even the sort of hateful, Holocaust-denying speech practiced by Dieudonné — are bound to backfire and this is exactly what has happened in France. Dieudonné’s audience hasn’t just increased as a result of rulings banning his performances and fining him for Holocaust denial have enabled him to bridge the vast gap between Muslim immigrants and right-wing French nationalists who share their hatred for Jews.

This is bad news for France and Europe. But the problem here goes deeper than the way the measures employed by government authorities and Jewish groups to punish Dieudonné have predictably boomeranged on them and turned him into a counter-cultural hero. This depressing spectacle can be represented as something new in which social media and the Internet have provided a forum for disgruntled people looking for a spokesman for their desire to use the Jews as a convenient scapegoat for their troubles. But Dieudonné is merely the latest outbreak of the same old European sickness that produced the very Holocaust that the comedian has tried to deny.

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Back in January, we reported here on the way a heretofore-obscure French comedian had popularized the quenelle — a downward facing Nazi salute — had become the symbol of a crucial shift in European culture in which anti-Semitism had become fashionable in some segments of popular culture. Months after Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala had started making international headlines, he has finally made the front page of the New York Times today with a feature that ponders whether efforts by French authorities to crack own on his activities have helped make him even more popular. As Seth Mandell previously noted, efforts to restrict free speech in this manner — even the sort of hateful, Holocaust-denying speech practiced by Dieudonné — are bound to backfire and this is exactly what has happened in France. Dieudonné’s audience hasn’t just increased as a result of rulings banning his performances and fining him for Holocaust denial have enabled him to bridge the vast gap between Muslim immigrants and right-wing French nationalists who share their hatred for Jews.

This is bad news for France and Europe. But the problem here goes deeper than the way the measures employed by government authorities and Jewish groups to punish Dieudonné have predictably boomeranged on them and turned him into a counter-cultural hero. This depressing spectacle can be represented as something new in which social media and the Internet have provided a forum for disgruntled people looking for a spokesman for their desire to use the Jews as a convenient scapegoat for their troubles. But Dieudonné is merely the latest outbreak of the same old European sickness that produced the very Holocaust that the comedian has tried to deny.

This episode demonstrates the problems that stem from the lack of American-style First Amendment free speech protections. Though France’s history of anti-Semitism in which both governments and the official church have played major roles is cited as a reason why hate speech an Holocaust denial are treated as criminal acts, Dieudonné illustrates the pitfalls of taking a marginal figure and elevating him to the status of a public menace. That had the perverse effect of justifying the anti-Semitic narrative in which Jews are falsely accused of manipulating society rather than defending it against hate.

But the real story here isn’t the failure of those who care about anti-Semitism to do something to derail Dieudonné’s popularity. It’s the fact that there is such a large audience in France and elsewhere in Europe for humor that is based on resentment of Jews. Though his appeal has been enhanced by the government’s decision to give him all this free publicity, the reason why his videos have gone viral on the Internet is that he has given a fresh voice to old prejudices.

Muslim immigrants brought their own brand of Jew-hatred to France where it found a home alongside the other variations on the same theme voiced by Jean-Marie and Marine Le Pen’s Front National Party. The result is a toxic brew of prejudice that seeks to channel the resentments of the poor and the working class against Jews. This is exacerbated by the same trends that prevail around Europe in which elite and academic attacks on Israel have merged with traditional anti-Semitism to create an even broader base for Jew-hatred.

But, as the Times points out, the most dangerous aspect of Dieudonné’s impact is the way he is seeking to mainstream hate. The troubling rise in anti-Semitic violence in France isn’t taking place in a vacuum or merely the result of one man’s weak attempts at satire. It is well understood that the post-Holocaust reticence about expressions of open anti-Semitism has faded in recent decades in Europe. The combination of intellectual Jew-hatred which masquerading as anti-Zionism with Dieudonné’s jokes about the Holocaust can “connect with the masses” in the same way that pervious waves of anti-Semitism swept France at the turn of the 20th century during the Dreyfus Affair as well as in the 1930s.

Rather than focus all their energy on one rogue entertainer, Europeans who care about stamping out hate need to ask whether his ability to tap into old hatreds says something about other aspects of their society. Anti-Semitism isn’t merely the product of the banlieues — working class suburbs — where immigrant families live but a factor that has played a role in politics and culture for centuries. What they need are not more laws restricting anti-Semitic speech but a nationwide soul-searching about the way Jew-hatred has been enabled by a broader group than those laughing at Dieudonné’s jokes.

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Anti-Semitism Should Not Be Criminalized

The challenge France faces in stemming the tide of a resurgent anti-Semitism has been on full display during the controversy over its now-infamous anti-Semitic comic and the modified Nazi-like salute he has sadly popularized. Both the bigotry and the government’s discomfiting attempts to quash it were neatly summarized in these two sentences from the Associated Press report on Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala:

The 47-year-old Dieudonne (pronounced DYEU-dun-ay) denies his act — or the “quenelle” — is anti-Semitic. However, he has been convicted more than a half-dozen times for inciting racial hatred or anti-Semitism over the years.

To deny the quenelle is anti-Semitic is merely to insult the public’s intelligence. The modified Nazi salute is accompanied by Dieudonne’s “comedy” in which he laments the lack of gas chambers for French Jews. But that second sentence is problematic as well. He’s been “convicted” time and again for his racism and anti-Semitism. Dieudonne’s hateful act should be shunned, but not by punished by the government. Yet as Dieudonne’s popularity has increased, so has the French government’s authoritarian response–one that should be anathema to a free society:

Nantes and Tours have become the latest French cities to ban a show by controversial comic Dieudonne M’bala M’bala.

Dieudonne, who has six convictions for hate speech against Jews, had been due to open his tour in Nantes on Thursday.

Bordeaux and Marseille had already cancelled performances.

President Francois Hollande earlier urged French officials to enforce an order authorising the ban, but Dieudonne has vowed to appeal.

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The challenge France faces in stemming the tide of a resurgent anti-Semitism has been on full display during the controversy over its now-infamous anti-Semitic comic and the modified Nazi-like salute he has sadly popularized. Both the bigotry and the government’s discomfiting attempts to quash it were neatly summarized in these two sentences from the Associated Press report on Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala:

The 47-year-old Dieudonne (pronounced DYEU-dun-ay) denies his act — or the “quenelle” — is anti-Semitic. However, he has been convicted more than a half-dozen times for inciting racial hatred or anti-Semitism over the years.

To deny the quenelle is anti-Semitic is merely to insult the public’s intelligence. The modified Nazi salute is accompanied by Dieudonne’s “comedy” in which he laments the lack of gas chambers for French Jews. But that second sentence is problematic as well. He’s been “convicted” time and again for his racism and anti-Semitism. Dieudonne’s hateful act should be shunned, but not by punished by the government. Yet as Dieudonne’s popularity has increased, so has the French government’s authoritarian response–one that should be anathema to a free society:

Nantes and Tours have become the latest French cities to ban a show by controversial comic Dieudonne M’bala M’bala.

Dieudonne, who has six convictions for hate speech against Jews, had been due to open his tour in Nantes on Thursday.

Bordeaux and Marseille had already cancelled performances.

President Francois Hollande earlier urged French officials to enforce an order authorising the ban, but Dieudonne has vowed to appeal.

The Jews of France should hope Dieudonne wins his appeal. As Jonathan noted last week, banning the gesture and Dieudonne’s “comedy” will only make both more popular.

Additionally, such actions will reinforce Dieudonne’s hateful speech. When anti-Semites anywhere propagandize about malign Jewish influence on their beloved countries, the last thing that would discredit them would be for the Jewish minority to appear to prevail on the government to outlaw anti-Jewish remarks and take away the livelihood of its proponents.

More specifically, the French actions risk retroactively buttressing Dieudonne’s protestation that the quenelle is an “anti-establishment” sign, not an anti-Jewish gesture. Once the government outlaws it and those who use it, the quenelle goes from being anti-Semitic to also being anti-establishment. (Is anything more anti-establishment than a government-banned hand gesture?)

The controversy over the quenelle takes place against the backdrop of Europe’s decades-long struggle to learn the right lessons from the Holocaust. One of those efforts–well-intentioned and an outgrowth of the earlier attempts to get the continent’s surviving Nazis assimilated back into society–was to criminalize Holocaust denial. Unfortunately, criminalizing speech is its own form of legitimization: only dangerous, seductive ideas must be forbidden to be defeated. The exception of course is speech that incites violence, and there is unfortunately a thin line, especially in Europe, between anti-Semitic speech and anti-Semitic violence.

Thus the laws against Holocaust denial and similar hateful speech are part of a genuine desire to grapple with balancing freedom and security. In its 2007 write-up of the Holocaust denial conviction of Ernst Zuendel, the New York Times included this aside:

Interestingly, Mr. Zuendel had spent much of his adult life in Canada — having lived and worked there since 1958, and where he wrote a little book called “The Hitler We Loved and Why.” But the Canadians decided he was a security threat in 2005 and sent him back to Germany.

It can be tempting to consider hate speech a security threat. The two can work in tandem without being equated, but it’s always a struggle for countries–especially those that don’t have a First Amendment–to decide where to draw the line. And European countries dealing with the terrible combination of past genocide and present anti-Semitism should be commended for their desire make pariahs of those who pine for the days of state-sponsored extermination.

But those ideas–when they remain ideas, and not battlefield cries–should be defeated by a society, not outlawed by the government. Jailing anti-Semites for their opinions won’t reduce anti-Semitism. Incarceration can deter action, but it’s unlikely to alleviate grievance, and anyway it is an unjust method of changing minds. The same goes for the government banning “comedians” whose act offends basic notions of decency.

It’s also worth reminding the Jews of Europe that their religious beliefs contain ideas that the modern secular left consider offensive as well. They may find that a heavyhanded government enforcing a standard of righteous thought is on their side this time. If they think it will stay that way, then they, too, have unlearned the lessons of the past.

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