'Anti-Semitic' Comedian Faces French Ban
Controversial French comedian Dieudonné M'bala M'bala is facing a ban by French authorities, who say he has gone "too far" in promoting anti-Semitism and holocaust denial.
Dieudonné has a long history of anti-Semitic comments and performances - from branding "the Jews" as "a sect, a fraud", and referring to Holocaust commemorations as "memorial pornography"; to appearing on stage dressed as a hareidi Jew making a Nazi salute. He has also popularized the "quenelle" gesture - sometimes referred to as a "reverse Nazi salute" - which consists of a lowered straight arm salute with the other arm folded across the shoulder.
Although his supporters say it is merely "anti-establishment", it is frequently used by French anti-Semites, many of whom photograph themselves making the "modified" Nazi salute in front of Jewish establishments, holocaust memorial sites and even with unsuspecting Jewish passersby.
The phenomenon has become popular with a wide range of extremists - from Neo-Nazis to Islamists and far-left anti-Israel activists - reflecting Dieudonné's own political career at the fringes of French politics: having started off in far-left circles, the divisive comedian recently established connections with the far-right French National Front.
The most recent allegations against Dieudonné came when a hidden camera recorded him making anti-Semitic comments during a performance at his theater.
Referring to French Jewish radio journalist Patrick Cohen, he said "Me, you see, when I hear Patrick Cohen speak, I think to myself: 'Gas chambers…too bad [they no longer exist]'," according to France 24.
The outrageous comments were broadcast on France 2 TV earlier this month, triggering outrage by Jewish and anti-racism groups, and prompting Radio France, which Cohen works for, to report Dieudonné for engaging in "openly anti-Semitic speech".
But the fallout has continued, with French Interior Minister Manuel Valls releasing a statement in which he said he would seek to ban Dieudonné's performances altogether.
"Despite a conviction for public defamation, hate speech and racial discrimination, Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala no longer seems to recognize any limits," the statement, read, according to France 24. "Consequently, the interior minister has decided to thoroughly examine all legal options that would allow a ban on Dieudonné’s public gatherings, which no longer belong to the artistic domain, but rather amount to a public safety risk."
Earlier in the day Valls told the Le Parisien newspaper that he "will do anything to prevent Dieudonne from campaigning for anti-Semitism and racism", and slammed the quenelle gesture as "anti-Semitic".
Roger Cukierman, who heads CRIF, an organization which represents French Jewry, lauded the proposed ban as long overdue in an interview with French television.
"It’s a step in the right direction, because if we continue letting him do as he pleases, violence could result," he told the i>TELE channel. "It’s time to silence him. He’s no longer a comic; he has become a peddler of hate."
Anti-Semitism in France has skyrocketed in recent years, causing many French Jews to leave the country. A report found anti-Semitic incidents rose 58% in 2012, with most attributed to Muslim extremists. That year saw the infamous Toulouse shooting in 2012 in which a rabbi and 3 Jewish children were murdered in a shooting-spree by a French Muslim extremist. The Israeli government recently announced a program to help French Jews emigrate to Israel on a large scale.
The rampant anti-Semitism has also prompted some Jews to take matters into their own hands. Earlier this week, 6 members of the French Jewish Defense League (known as the Ligue de Defense Juive or LDJ) were arrested on charges of tracking down - and then beating up - neo-Nazis who posted online photos of themselves making quenelle salutes and other anti-Semitic gestures.
The developments come as a high-profile French soccer player and friend of Dieudonné has come under fire for making the quenelle gesture during a game for his British club on Saturday.
Nicholas Anelka made the anti-Semitic salute as he celebrated scoring a goal for West Bromwich Albion against West Ham during a British Premier League game. He has previously been photographed making the gesture with Dieudonné himself.