Commentary Magazine


Topic: Dieudonné

Another Anti-Semitic Outrage on the Dark Continent

Yet again, Jews in Europe are grieving. Saturday’s brutal shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels was a stark reminder that, for its Jewish communities, Europe is rapidly becoming a dark continent, one where extreme violence lurks behind the constant stream of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic invective found on extremist websites and mainstream media outlets alike.

Four people were murdered in the museum shooting. Two of them were a couple from Tel Aviv, vacationing in the Belgian capital. The third was a female volunteer at the museum, while the fourth was a 23 year-old museum employee who was hospitalized in critical condition and who died shortly afterwards from his injuries. The assault was eerily reminiscent of the Islamist terror attack in 2012 at a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse, in which three young children and a rabbi were similarly shot at close range by Mohammed Merah, an individual with dual French and Algerian citizenship who entered the global Islamist terror network following visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Yet again, Jews in Europe are grieving. Saturday’s brutal shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels was a stark reminder that, for its Jewish communities, Europe is rapidly becoming a dark continent, one where extreme violence lurks behind the constant stream of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic invective found on extremist websites and mainstream media outlets alike.

Four people were murdered in the museum shooting. Two of them were a couple from Tel Aviv, vacationing in the Belgian capital. The third was a female volunteer at the museum, while the fourth was a 23 year-old museum employee who was hospitalized in critical condition and who died shortly afterwards from his injuries. The assault was eerily reminiscent of the Islamist terror attack in 2012 at a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse, in which three young children and a rabbi were similarly shot at close range by Mohammed Merah, an individual with dual French and Algerian citizenship who entered the global Islamist terror network following visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It just so happens that I am writing these lines from Jerusalem, where I am one of several speakers at a major conference on anti-Semitism organized by the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University. As the news from Brussels broke on Saturday night, hundreds of Israelis were gathering in cafes and bars to watch the final of the European Cup soccer tournament. In the informal conversations I had with fellow spectators, I encountered anger and disgust, but little surprise–this is Europe we’re talking about, after all. And to its immense credit, the Israeli government’s official response to the attack reflected these public sentiments. “This act of murder is the result of constant incitement against Jews and their state,” declared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Slander and lies against the State of Israel continue to be heard on European soil even as the crimes against humanity and acts of murder being perpetrated in our region are systematically ignored.”

When it comes to spreading fear among Jews, Belgium is, in fact, one of the worst offenders. The the latest annual survey of global anti-Semitic incidents and expressions from Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute noted that “the countries in which the situation and sense of vulnerability seem to be the worst were Hungary, France, and Belgium.” Indeed, anyone tempted to think that the Brussels attack was an isolated aberration would do well to consider the depressingly long list of anti-Semitic incidents in Belgium that presaged it.

Last year, an anti-Semitism watchdog group reported a 23 percent increase in antisemitic attacks in 2012 from the previous year (when you remember that many such incidents go unreported, the number is likely to be higher.) As Netanyahu asserted in his response to the museum attack, these physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are enabled by the incitement which underpins them. There was, for example, the Brussels concert of the former Pink Floyd vocalist, and professional Israel-hater, Roger Waters, which featured a pig-shaped balloon emblazoned with a Star of David. A website for the teaching of history run by the Belgian Education Ministry featured a cartoon by the anti-Semitic Brazilian artist, Carlos Latuff, which compared Israel with Nazi Germany through a representation of a dead concentration camp victim alongside a dead Palestinian, their limbs arranged in the shape of a swastika. In February this year, passengers on a Belgian train were informed over the speaker system, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are approaching Auschwitz. All Jews are requested to disembark and take a short shower.” Earlier this month, police in Brussels used water cannon to disperse a mob of anti-Semites who had gathered for an event featuring the anti-Semitic French provocateur, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, and Laurent Louis, a Belgian parliamentarian who has regularly issued anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic statements. 

It’s often quipped that European governments have a decent record of commemorating dead Jews, as evidenced by the numerous Holocaust memorials across the continent, and a pretty awful record when it comes to protecting live ones. The imperative of guaranteeing freedom of speech necessarily limits any actions that governments can take against anti-Semitic incitement, but that should not prevent European leaders from explicitly recognizing where this poison springs from. It is not enough to say, as did the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, that the Brussels atrocity “was an attack on European values which we cannot tolerate.” Only when Europe’s politicians finally acknowledge that the continent’s culture of Israel-hatred–expressed through boycott campaigns, degrading films and cartoons, frequent analogies between Israel and Nazi Germany or apartheid-era South Africa, and much else besides–is what lies behind this deadly violence, will we finally be able to say that some progress in confronting this social disease has been made.

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France Acts, England Dithers, Over “Quenelle” Salute

Thanks in large part to the efforts of French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, Dieudonné, the anti-Semitic French propagandist who describes himself as a comedian, is finally on the defensive. Last week, as thousands of enthusiasts turned up for one of his shows in the city of Nantes–as can be seen in the photos here, many of them were hipsters making the quenelle, the inverted Nazi salute which Dieudonné devised–Valls successfully appealed to France’s Council of State to shut down the performance.

Mindful that Dieudonné has already racked up seven convictions for anti-Semitic hate speech–including one last year following a media interview in which he stated, “the biggest crooks in the world, that’s the Jews”–Valls deemed that “peddlers of hate stop at nothing and show boundless creativity … the status quo is not a solution.” As a direct result of the ban, Dieudonné has announced that he is working on a new show with completely different material (about Africa, according to Reuters) adding somewhat obliquely, “as a comedian, I have pushed the debate to the very edge of laughter.”

The parameters of this “debate” are efficiently summarized by the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, writing in the Daily Beast:

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Thanks in large part to the efforts of French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, Dieudonné, the anti-Semitic French propagandist who describes himself as a comedian, is finally on the defensive. Last week, as thousands of enthusiasts turned up for one of his shows in the city of Nantes–as can be seen in the photos here, many of them were hipsters making the quenelle, the inverted Nazi salute which Dieudonné devised–Valls successfully appealed to France’s Council of State to shut down the performance.

Mindful that Dieudonné has already racked up seven convictions for anti-Semitic hate speech–including one last year following a media interview in which he stated, “the biggest crooks in the world, that’s the Jews”–Valls deemed that “peddlers of hate stop at nothing and show boundless creativity … the status quo is not a solution.” As a direct result of the ban, Dieudonné has announced that he is working on a new show with completely different material (about Africa, according to Reuters) adding somewhat obliquely, “as a comedian, I have pushed the debate to the very edge of laughter.”

The parameters of this “debate” are efficiently summarized by the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, writing in the Daily Beast:

…the only form of anti-Semitism with legs today, the only form capable of taking in and galvanizing large numbers of people, is one that accomplishes the trifecta of anti-Zionism (Jews as supporters of an allegedly murderous state), Holocaust denial (an unscrupulous people who, in pursuit of their purposes, are capable of inventing or staging the slaughter of their own), and competitive victimhood (memory of the Holocaust as a screen to hide other massacres on the planet). Well, Dieudonné was in the process of tying these strands together. With his accomplice, French right-wing extremist Alain Soral, he was a sapper assembling his explosive device and preparing to set it off.

Inevitably, the ban has set off concerns about the limits of free speech in France. If Dieudonné were performing in America, the First Amendment would guarantee his right to be as offensive as he wishes. Yet as Lévy pointed out in an interview with the newspaper Le Parisien, available in English here, the basis for the French government’s decision was not some abstract conception of what constitutes offensive speech, but a concrete appraisal of the country’s existing laws against Holocaust denial and racist incitement–both of which have been engaged in by Dieudonné. Indeed, after years of indulging his performances, the French government finally decided, as Lévy put it, that its “duty…was to say ‘enough!’ It does not, though, logically follow that other provocateurs in France will be similarly silenced. “There isn’t a serious judge in France,” Lévy argued, “who would say: ‘Having convicted X for defiling the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, I will now convict Y for making fun of Minister Smith and Minister Jones’.”

The same determination to clearly identify the problem that Dieudonné represents appears, sadly, to be absent across the English Channel. It was not in France, but during an English soccer match that the latest scandal around Dieudonné first emerged.

On December 28, Nicolas Anelka, a French Muslim striker who plays for Premier League side West Bromwich Albion, celebrated one of the two goals he scored against West Ham United by giving the quenelle salute. It was a gesture seen by millions all over the world, including in the United States, where Premier League games are now broadcast on NBC. In the game’s immediate aftermath, representatives of the Jewish community and anti-racist activists filed complaints with the Football Association (FA) the governing body of English soccer, urging that Anelka be appropriately disciplined.

Soon after, Anelka confirmed that he would not make the quenelle again–he had, after all, already made his point–explaining that he had engaged in the gesture as a mark of solidarity with his personal friend, Dieudonné. Notably, Anelka did not apologize or express any regret over his action. The FA, meanwhile, has remained disturbingly silent. More than two weeks after Anelka gave his quenelle, the FA has made no substantive comment on the incident, save for saying that it has retained an expert to examine the issue and that an update can be expected on January 20 at the earliest.

According to Kick it Out, an organization combating racism in English soccer, the FA’s reluctance to issue an immediate condemnation has led to “criticism, particularly from community organizations, who feel deeply and rightly aggrieved by the gesture.” Now it can be pointed out, in the FA’s defense that the disciplinary process for two players who were convicted of racially abusing black opponents during the previous Premier League season also dragged on for several months. However, in one of those cases, the FA’s room for maneuver was held up because of a simultaneous criminal trial, while in the other, conflicting evidence given by witnesses meant that the Association had to proceed extremely carefully. By contrast, there is no doubt that Anelka gave the quenelle, nor that he did so in order to support a man who has arguably become Europe’s leading anti-Semite.

There will be much speculation as to why the FA has been so slow to move against Anelka. It will certainly have crossed their minds that Anelka could, as a Muslim, allege that he is being singled out for special opprobrium. It is also possible that some FA officials have been seduced by the nonsense that the quenelle is merely an “anti-establishment” gesture, and cannot therefore be explicitly tied to anti-Semitism.

If the FA has any mettle, it will understand that the evidence built up against Dieudonné in France can be used against Anelka in England. And its verdict should be as decisive as in the racism cases I mentioned earlier, in which both players were heavily fined and subjected to lengthy match bans. Anelka deserves no less.

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More than a Gesture Behind Euro Jew-Hate

Most of us may not have heard of it until recently, but the quenelle, the name given to a hand gesture that is a downward facing Nazi salute, has become an important symbol of the shift in European culture in recent years. Created by Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, an anti-Semitic French comedian, the quenelle is now all the rage in France. Soccer players do it after scoring goals and the comic’s fans, including soldiers, send him pictures in which it is performed in every conceivable manner, especially at sites like Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and schools. Even Tony Parker, a French citizen and an American basketball star of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, has had his picture taken performing it with Dieudonné, as he is known on stage, though Parker has since apologized. As such it is an all-too-pertinent example of how Jew hatred has moved from the margins of European society to the mainstream as a result of what the U.S. State Department has termed a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism.

Though M’Bala M’Bala claims the gesture is nothing more than an “anti-system” inside joke, his attempts at humor tend to revolve around resentment against Jews. That allows the jest to be the not-so-secret handshake that brings disaffected Muslim immigrants together with the denizens of the far right in a shared community of hate in which Jewish targets are the punch lines. But while French authorities, including sports league officials, are seeking to discourage its use, the problem here is a lot bigger than one foul-mouthed show-business personality and his followers.

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Most of us may not have heard of it until recently, but the quenelle, the name given to a hand gesture that is a downward facing Nazi salute, has become an important symbol of the shift in European culture in recent years. Created by Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, an anti-Semitic French comedian, the quenelle is now all the rage in France. Soccer players do it after scoring goals and the comic’s fans, including soldiers, send him pictures in which it is performed in every conceivable manner, especially at sites like Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and schools. Even Tony Parker, a French citizen and an American basketball star of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, has had his picture taken performing it with Dieudonné, as he is known on stage, though Parker has since apologized. As such it is an all-too-pertinent example of how Jew hatred has moved from the margins of European society to the mainstream as a result of what the U.S. State Department has termed a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism.

Though M’Bala M’Bala claims the gesture is nothing more than an “anti-system” inside joke, his attempts at humor tend to revolve around resentment against Jews. That allows the jest to be the not-so-secret handshake that brings disaffected Muslim immigrants together with the denizens of the far right in a shared community of hate in which Jewish targets are the punch lines. But while French authorities, including sports league officials, are seeking to discourage its use, the problem here is a lot bigger than one foul-mouthed show-business personality and his followers.

At a time when the efforts of European intellectual elites to delegitimize Israel has frequently crossed the line into anti-Semitism, and the growing population of North Africans and Africans have brought their own brand of traditional animus toward Jews onto the continent, the quenelle is the perfect example of the changed atmosphere in Europe and the way practitioners of Jew hatred have managed to portray themselves as trendy rather than throwbacks to the Holocaust.

The conceit of the quenelle is that it can claim to be a counter-cultural symbol, as distinct from those directly associated with traditional anti-Semitism or Nazism. Since in many European countries, and France in particular, hate speech is banned, the furor over the quenelle’s breakout into mainstream culture has led to a discussion about whether the gesture should become illegal as well as if Dieudonné’s shows, which feature soi-disant humorous rants about Jewish “slave drivers” manipulating ordinary people and complaints about claims of Jewish victimhood, should also be prohibited.

This is a mistake, since although France has a strong tradition of government intervention in affairs in which authorities should stay out of, banning either the gesture or the performer will raise justified complaints about rights of free speech as well as making Dieudonné into a victim rather than a perpetrator. More to the point, the exclusive focus on the comedian, which has brought him international notoriety and exposure that he could never have hoped to achieve with his limited artistic appeal, misses the point about the popularity of the gesture and the simmering hate that it exposes.

The quenelle fad, which Dieudonné not unreasonably terms a success, is merely a symptom, not the disease. This outbreak is inconceivable outside the context of the non-stop incitement against Jews that masquerades as criticism of Israel or Zionism that has become a mainstream element of both elite as well as popular European culture. In the decades following the Holocaust this would have been confined to the fever swamps of the far right or far left, but the old constraints against Jew-hatred have slipped away in recent years. At a time when Jewish religious practices such as circumcision and kosher slaughter are under legal attack in many European countries and Israel has become the whipping boy of the international community, traditional hate has become acceptable so long as it operates under the cloak of anti-Zionism.

What is needed in France is not a ban on the quenelle but a determination by politicians, opinion leaders, and cultural figures to fight back against this new variant strain of anti-Semitism. But with so many of the cultural elites there–as well as in other Western European nations–so closely associated with the demonization of Israel, such a campaign may not be possible.

When people are having their pictures taken performing the quenelle in front of a Jewish school in Toulouse where Jews were massacred by a Muslim shooter, as has reportedly happened, France may have reached the tipping point where it is no longer safe for Jews. If Europe truly wishes to avoid the flight of the remnants of Jewry that has put down new roots there since 1945, it must recognize that its problem is mainstream Jew hatred, not a rogue comedian.

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