France probes anti-Semitic gesture at Toulouse Jewish school

City prosecutor vows to fight "quenelle" fad and glorification of 2012 shooter Merah; NBA player Tony Parker apologizes for gesture.

December 31, 2013 22:58
3 minute read.
Man does quenelle gesture.

Man does quenelle gesture. (photo credit: JTA)


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An inquiry has been opened in Toulouse after a photo of someone making an anti-Semitic gesture outside a Jewish school in the southern French city appeared on the Internet.

The school, Ohr Torah, was where an Islamist gunman killed four Jews almost two years ago. The school changed its name from Otzar Hatorah after the incident.

Toulouse prosecutor Michel Valet told AFP that he opened the inquiry on December 13, the “same day” he was informed about the photo by a staff member of the school. Leaders of the local Jewish community said the photo first appeared several weeks before.

In the photo, a young man wearing black sunglasses and a white T-shirt with the likeness of Yasser Arafat is making a gesture known as the quenelle, seen by many as reminiscent of the Nazi salute.

The gesture was made popular by Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, a black comedian who in 2009 ran in continent-wide elections at the head of the “Anti-Zionist List.” His shows have repeatedly insulted the memory of Holocaust victims.

Recently, French Interior Minister Emmanuel Valls announced his ministry was considering legal ways to ban Dieudonne’s performances, calling the comedian “a little contractor of hatred... a racist and an anti-Semite... possessed by hatred of the Jew.”

In March 2012, Mohammed Merah opened fire at the school, shooting to death Rabbi Yonatan Sandler and his children, Aryeh and Gavriel. Afterward he shot and killed Miram Monsenego, the young daughter of the school’s headmaster.

Prior to the attack he killed three French soldiers in the nearby city of Montauban. In the end, Merah was killed by members of a special police anti-terror unit who had surrounded his apartment in Toulouse.

Since then, the Jewish school has become a target for anti-Semites. Last September, a 20-year-old male was sentenced to one year in prison for having phoned the school to say: “I am Merah’s cousin and I’m going to kill you all.”

Valet, the city prosecutor, said he was determined to fight anti-Semitic activity and the glorification of Merah “without weakness.”

On Monday, the prosecutor’s office in Paris announced it had opened an inquiry against Dieudonne for “racial incitement,” citing statements he had made against a Jewish radio journalist during a recent appearance in the city.

“When I listen to him, Patrick Cohen, I tell myself: gas chambers? What a pity!” the comedian reportedly said.

Recently, a British soccer player and a player in the NBA, both French nationals, were caught making the quenelle gesture.

The soccer player, Nicolas Anelka, did so on Saturday after scoring a goal for his team, West Bromwich Albion.

The European Jewish Congress turned to both the English Football Association and UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, in a bid to stamp out the gesture. In a letter to both organizations, EJC president Moshe Kantor wrote that “the legitimization of anti-Semitic acts by players who are supposed to act as role models for youth is a particularly dangerous phenomenon.”

He called for “action to confront this phenomenon as it relates to football.”

Tony Parker, a point guard for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, made the gesture in a video that appeared on YouTube. In the video, he is shown alongside Dieudonne. Parker apologized on Monday at the request of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, saying he had not been aware of the gesture’s racist overtones and promising he “will never do it again.”

Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham H. Foxman welcomed Parker’s apology, saying the quenelle had become a “faddish element” that had the “potential to be mimicked by other young fans and athletes around the world.”

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