LDJ members demonstrate in France
LDJ members demonstrate in France Ligue de Defense Juive

On Saturday, a high-profile French soccer player courted controversy for using an anti-Semitic symbol during a game. The "quenelle" gesture - an inverted Nazi salute - was given by Nicolas Anelka during a Premier League match in Britain, sparking outrage in Europe and Israel, and triggering calls for him to be punished by the English Football Association.

Anelka saw little irony in "defending" his use of a modified Nazi salute by saying that he merely did so in solidarity with the notoriously anti-Semitic "comedian" Diedonne M'Bala M'Bala, who popularized the symbol in the first place and is now facing a ban by French authorities for spreading anti-Semitic hate.

Pictures of Anelka and Diedonne - both Muslim converts - making the salute together soon emerged, as Anelka remained defiant.

For French Jews, there is nothing new or especially shocking about all this. The fact that Dieudonne's message of hate has filtered into French popular culture is a daily reality for them, as illustrated by the rampant anti-Semitism they are forced to endure.

Among other anti-Semitic diatribes and shows, Dieudonne has referred to "the Jews" as "the worst cult of all"; honored holocaust deniers during his performances (many of which themselves mock the holocaust); has referred to holocaust commemorations as "memorial pornography"; and lamented that it was "too bad" there are no more gas chambers. His views have made him popular among a wide variety of extremists from the far-left, far-right and the Muslim community; he has met with Iran's holocaust-denying former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and has forged close ties with the far-right National Front party.

The atmosphere of anti-Semitic hostility Dieudonne has helped fomented has contributed towards two growing phenomena among France's Jewish community. On the one hand, many French Jews have reacted by packing their bags and leaving, leading to an increase in aliyah (emigration to Israel), as well as increasing numbers of French-Jewish expat communities in the UK, US and elsewhere in the Diaspora.

At the same time, however, many young, dissilusioned French Jews are taking matters into their own hands - turning to increasingly militant solutions in the face of what they see as a lackluster effort by French authorities to tackle anti-Semitism. Most notably, many are turning to the Ligue de Defense Juive (LDJ) - the French version of the militant Jewish Defense League, set up in the US during the late 1960s by Rabbi Meir Kahane as a response to rampant anti-Semitism at the time.

The LDJ hit headlines recently when six Jews were arrested for tracking down and beating up anti-Semites, after identifying them from online self-portraits in which they made the quenelle gesture. Since Dieudonne made it famous, anti-Semites regularly post pictures of themselves making the gesture in front of Jewish institutions including synagogues and holocaust memorials - a hobby which seems to have backfired for the men in question.

It was alleged that the attackers were operating as part of the LDJ. The group denied responsibility, but Haaretz reported that a message on its official Twitter feed boasted: "Two major punitive actions were carried out Saturday and Sunday in Lyon against people who performed the quenelle. The little Nazis are no longer at ease!"

That tweet now appears to have been taken down, but the group remains defiant and in a fighting mood.

Speaking exclusively to Arutz Sheva on condition of anonymity, an LDJ spokesman who goes by the name of "Itshak" said he was skeptical that a ban on Dieudonne's performances proposed by the French Interior Minister would be carried out, since due to the country's economic woes "anti-Semitism just isn't a priority for the French government".

He also dismissed recent lawsuits which fined Dieudonne for his anti-Semitism, claiming that "he hasn't paid a penny. All his assets are in his wife's name so he doesn't care about fines."

'Someone could get killed'

Instead, he said his group would continue to fight back in its own way. The LDJ will be holding a rally outside Deudonne's theater on January 16, demanding it be closed for good.

"Every day Deidonne incites against Jews in his theater, and we say to the establishment: we will not accept this," he declared, adding that his group realized the scheduled demonstration "will attract extremists in opposition to us - but we are ready for them."

He warned that a continued lack of effective measures by the authorities to tackle the rising anti-Semitism could lead to greater violence and even bloodshed. Indeed, the Toulouse Massacre and the brutal murder of French Jew Ilan Halimi - both committed by Muslim extremists - illustrate how anti-Semitism in France can easily turn deadly.

But Itshak also said that the vigilante attacks against anti-Semites last week were a sign of things to come, and that angry young French Jews who feel abandoned by their government would increasingly resort to violence as a last resort.

"The Lyon operation was not us," he reiterated, concerning the recent vigilante attacks, "but we did not condemn it because it was the reaction of the Jew on the street to this unacceptable level of anti-Semitism.

"We say to the authorities that if you continue to ignore anti-Semitism you will see more of this - individual Jews fighting back, more violence... somebody could get killed."

But, he was careful to add, "we (the LDJ) are not 'killers', like some people on the internet like to say, and we are not extremists. We don't have a problem with anyone; black, white, Christian, Muslim.

"We don't want to harm anyone - but if somebody attacks us we will defend ourselves," he continued, adding that that is why "the anti-Semites are afraid of us."

Itshak added that many young French Jews feel genuinely alienated by the lack of an effective response by the French government. "They are thinking of themselves as less and less French. They don't understand why the government doesn't do anything about it (anti-Semitism)."

"That's why so many are making aliyah," he explained.

Challenging the French government to decide "if it actually wants to keep its Jewish community," he mused that if not "we will just pack our bags and leave, and let them keep the Muslim extremists. Maybe they deserve it."