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French Court Bans Performances of Anti-Semitic Comic Dieudonné

Pictured: French Anti-Semitic Comic Dieudonne’ and French Soccer star Nicolas Anelka in Nazi-like quenelle salute

French Court of the State re imposed a ban on the performance of controversial comic Dieudonne’ within minutes of an administrative tribunal decision in Nantes lifting it.   Dieudonné was in the midst of a tour of several major French cities, despite having over 9 convictions with penalties of $80,000 for violating French hate laws.  These violations are regarding his comments about the Holocaust and Jewish personalities that some, including his former Jewish comic sidekick, consider Anti-Semitic.  His performance in Nantes had been banned by a local French government official in furtherance public order issued by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, Tuesday.  Valls said  today:

“This is a political battle and not just a legal one. We must not let these intolerable statements go unanswered.” The Socialist politician said Dieudonné’s anti-Semitic and racist outbursts were “not an opinion, but a felony” and underlined that “the action I have undertaken has the advantage of mobilizing everyone, including the offices of the State.”

On Tuesday French President Hollande said:

I am calling on all representatives of the state, particularly its prefects, to be on alert and inflexible. No one should be able to use this show for provocation and to promote openly anti-Semitic ideas.

A World Jewish Congress (WJC) report noted:

Earlier this week,  Interior Minister Valls said racial and anti-Semitic remarks in Dieudonné’s show were legal infractions and “no longer belong to the artistic and creative dimension”. In a three-page circular letter sent on Monday to prefects and mayors across France, Valls said that the show contained “disgraceful and anti-Semitic words toward Jewish personalities or the Jewish community” and “virulent and shocking attacks on the memory of victims of the Holocaust.”

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World Jewish Congress Vice-President Roger Cukierman, the head of the French Jewish umbrella body CRIF, told ‘France Info’ radio on Tuesday morning that he was satisfied that the French government had now acted. He called on French citizens to speak out against Dieudonné’s anti-Semitism. “No, France is not an anti-Semitic country, but therefore, one has to put stop to [Dieudonné’s] actions and prosecute him wherever possible.” Cukierman is among eight persons and institutions against who Dieudonné has threatened a defamation suit.

Even a right wing Political Leader, Marnie Le Pen of the National Front, expressed “shock’ at Dieudonné’s behavior in remarks to Le Figaro, although hedging that perhaps the French government may have gone too far with this ban.

Much of the controversy surrounding Dieudonne arises from his use of an alleged pro-Nazi gesture, the quenelle.  The WJC report noted:

The ‘quenelle’ gesture – holding one hand to the chest or shoulder, with the other extended rigidly downward, [is] like a lowered Nazi salute. Dieudonné’s companion Noémie Montagne has patented the gesture, as well as the use of its name for beverages, a television network and a public relations company.

The quenelle gesture was used by Nicolas Anelka, French Soccer star of the West Bromwich Albion English Premier League Soccer, team when scoring goals in a West Ham match.  Anelka Tweeted: “This gesture was a special dedication to my friend Dieudonné.”That gave rise to a Tweet from French Sports Minister, Valerie Fourneyron, who called it “Provocative”.   A WJC report cited European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor  urging  football’s governing bodies to punish Anelka as if he “had made the infamous outstretched arm salute” of the Nazis.

Dieudonné’s  loyal followers believe today’s legal battles, denied him  free speech.  In the US it could e considered protected speech under the First Amendment upheld under several Supreme Court decisions, beginning with the Brandenburg v. Ohio decision in 1969.

Prior to the reinstatement  today of the ban by the French Court of State, Dieudonné’s counsel Jacques Verdiersaid  was  cited by AFP  hastily saying:

 The judge’s ruling amounted to a “total victory”. A statement from the court said it did not regard the show as having “an attack on human dignity as its main object”.

Over 5,600 held tickets to the performance at the Zenith Theater in Nantes. Mayors in Bordeaux, Marseilles and Tours have banned Dieudonne’s performances in response to the order from French President Hollande and Interior Minister Valls.

Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala is the son of a French mother and Cameroonian father. He has made a career engaging in anti-Semitic references about the Holocaust, international Jewish control and inventing a Nazi-like gesture, the quenelle, mimicked by his followers. He has courted both far-right and far-left groups, as well as African and Muslim émigré communities in France.  Dieudonné had a Jewish partner, Eli Semour,  on TV and live performances. Dieudonné would appear in a KKK white sheet costume, while Semour would be decked out in a Nazi SS uniform. That was years ago. Now Semour is appalled at the depths of his former partner’s anti-Semitic routines.

One example of Dieudonne’s attacks on Jewish personalities was the case of French radio personality Patrick Cohen. The Wall Street Journal in its coverage of the most recent Dieudonné contretemps reported:

The latest controversy began last month, when state television channel France 2 broadcast footage captured by a hidden camera and showing Dieudonné commenting about French-Jewish radio anchor Patrick Cohen during a private performance.

“Me, you see, when I hear Patrick Cohen speak, I think to myself: Gas chambers…too bad,” the comedian was shown saying on stage. Dieudonné’s lawyers don’t dispute the video’s veracity.

Dieudonné’s remarks followed a previous remark by Mr. Cohen on a TV show that he was against hosting a number of “sick brains” in his morning radio shows, listing Dieudonné among others.

Later in December, Paris prosecutors said they had launched a preliminary probe against Dieudonné. In a TV interview, Mr. Cohen said he wouldn’t comment on the legal process. Dieudonné says the latest episode shows that France’s mainstream media has double standards over alleged racism.

“When it’s about blacks, people laugh, nobody bothers even though the pain and the misery are at least as deep,” Dieudonné said in a video posted on his YouTube channel.

Coinciding with this breaking news on Dieudonné and rising French Antisemitism, we interviewed yesterday Michel Gurfinkiel.  He is French journalist, author, founder and President of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative  think-thank in France. He is a Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum.    Among issues covered in the conversation were French Jewry, rising anti-Semitism, French government initiatives and multi-cultural and Muslim émigré problems including the current controversy over Dieudonné.

At one point in our conversation we discussed a separate initiative by the Hollande government that was controversial. This was a draft posted on the government’s website directed at cultivating the anti-racist, African and Muslim émigré voting constituencies. The draft fostered recognition of multi-cultural origins of these groups effectively denying integration with French history, language and cultural values.  The ruckus the proposal caused led to the withdrawal of the draft.  Gurfinkiel characterized it as one more step towards national suicide. Meanwhile, he noted that young French Jews are increasingly committed towards aliyah to Israel, while others are moving into predominately safer Christian areas in France.  As Gurfinkiel put it, French Jewry, transformed by Holocaust survivors and émigrés expelled from former French Muslim possessions and other Islamic countries, feel threatened.  The Dieudonné episode is another expression of that threat.

Look for more insights from Gurfinkiel in our interview with him in the February 2014 edition of the NER.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.