Anti-Semitic French Comic Loses Appeal Against Ban

Dieudonne's lawyers to keep fighting bans on his performances as he starts national tour; activists vow to protest until he is shut down.

Ari Soffer ,

Dieudonne with former far-right National Fron
Dieudonne with former far-right National Fron

A court in the French city of Pau is the first to dismiss an appeal by anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala against a ban of his planned show in Biarritz, arguing it had no legal jurisdiction to rule on the case.    

The ruling Wednesday comes amid increasing furor over the activities of Dieudonne, whose sketches are widely condemned as anti-Semitic.

Dieudonne's legal team are attempting to reverse bans on his shows as he kicks off his nationwide tour.

The 47-year-old was due to start his tour on Thursday in the western city of Nantes, but as in several other cities around France, authorities banned his performance after Interior Minister Manuel Valls gave local officials the go-ahead to do so - an initiative backed by President Francois Hollande.  

Dieudonne's material has been viewed as anti-Semitic for years, but he has gained greater prominence in recent months as a result of the Internet-driven success of the "quenelle", his trademark straight arm gesture which many have described as a reverse Nazi salute. He claims the gesture is not anti-Semitic but rather a coded "up yours" directed at the French establishment; however, those claims are undermined by his own long history of anti-Semitic comments and the popularity of the "quenelle" among anti-Semites from across the religious and political spectrum.

A range of far-left, far-right and Islamist anti-Semites regularly post images of themselves making the gesture in front of sensitive Jewish sites, including synagogues, holocaust memorials and even outside the Jewish school in Toulouse where an Islamist gunman murdered three schoolchildren and a rabbi.

Last month, six Jewish activists were arrested on suspicion of tracking down and beating up anti-Semites they identified from online pictures of them making the quenelle gesture.

A recent joke about gas chambers, secretly filmed at one of his shows, was the last straw for Valls who announced his intention to ban his performances.    

Referring to French Jewish radio journalist Patrick Cohen, Dieudonne said "Me, you see, when I hear Patrick Cohen speak, I think to myself: 'Gas chambers…too bad [they no longer exist]'".

Nevertheless, Jacques Verdier, one of Dieudonne's lawyers, told AFP he had filed an application to a court in Nantes asking that the ban be overturned before Thursday's show in an emergency legal procedure. A hearing has been set for Thursday morning.    

The comic also filed an appeal in Orleans against a ban on his show in Tours scheduled for Friday, with a hearing set for Thursday afternoon, according to court documents.    

He was likely to file similar applications in the other cities that have banned his show.    

Attempts to ban Dieudonne have sparked a fierce debate in France, with critics arguing they breach free speech and only fuel his popularity with his target audience. But proponents of the ban say he has simply gone too far, and that such levels of hate speech against other minority groups would not be similarly tolerated.

Authorities had feared that the city of Nantes - where more than 5,200 people have bought tickets for Thursday's show - would become the scene of a face-off between Dieudonne fans and opponents, but protests planned by veteran Nazi hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld have now been called off.  

However, the French Jewish Defense League - the Ligue de Defense Juive (LDJ) - confirmed to Arutz Sheva that their own planned protest for 16th January would go ahead as planned outside Dieudonne's Main D’Or theater in Paris.

"We are telling the French government, we will not allow his theater to be a base for anti-Semitism... We will keep protesting until it is closed down," vowed a spokesperson for the group.

Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, who goes by his first name, is the son of a father from Cameroon and a white French mother, and is a convert to Shia Islam.   

He started out as one of France's best-loved comics, rising to fame in a double-act with his childhood friend, the Jewish comic Elie Semoun.    

But he veered towards anti-Semitism and the change burst into the open in 2003, when he concluded a televised sketch for which he had dressed up as a heavily stereotyped Jew with a Nazi salute.    

A CSA poll for news website meanwhile found that 52 percent of 960 people polled on Tuesday and Wednesday were in favor of a ban of Dieudonne's shows, but that 64 percent believe that it will not help fight anti-Semitism.