French comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes)
Conspicuous displays of the “quenelle salute” – in public and on
the Internet – have been multiplying in recent weeks. Nicolas Anelka, a
Frenchman playing for the West Bromwich Albion soccer team in England,
celebrated the first of two goals he scored against West Ham United Saturday by
flashing the salute. A day later photos spread online of NBA star Tony Parker,
also a French national, doing the same. And on Monday, the France 3 media outlet
published a picture of a man whose face was photo-shopped out performing the
salute while standing outside a Jewish school in Toulouse where a Muslim
terrorist had murdered four Jews.
The quenelle salute has since gone
viral on social media sites, with mostly young people uploading “selfies” at
parties and at social events. Some do it while in the audience at TV shows on
the air live. Soldiers photographed themselves doing the salute while guarding a
It is not clear that the gesture is explicitly
anti-Semitic in all of these cases, except the one in Toulouse and the one in
front of the Parisian synagogue. At the very least, the gesture’s meaning is
vague enough when performed outside an explicitly Jewish context – such as on
the soccer field or in a TV studio – to allow those who perform it to deny
The salute is, however, a worrying affirmation
of a controversial figure in French society named Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, who
is responsible for making the quenelle famous. Once of France’s most successful
comedians, he began his career appearing with a Elie Semoun, a Jew, and used his
humor to combat racism. Dieudonne then began adopting blatantly
anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist motifs.
At the end of 2003, he appeared on a
popular political talk show wearing a camouflage jacket, a black ski mask, and a
haredi hat with fake sidelocks and launched into a speech that called on the
audience to join “the Americano- Zionist Axis – the only one that offers you
happiness, and the only one to give you a chance of living a little bit longer…”
Dieudonne finished his polemic by raising his arm and crying “Isra-heil.” And in
the trailer to his 2012 film L’Antisémite, Dieudonne is an obsessive compulsive
anti-Semite who declares, “You’re right, my dear. I’m an anti-Semite. It’s clear
the Jews control everything – the media, finance, politics. We have no choice.
We must …” – he turns to the camera and, staring into it, says – “exterminate
The sudden ubiquity of the quenelle is an affirmation of
Dieudonne’s form of anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist sentiment that has succeeded in
taking root in the radical Left and the radical Right in France and elsewhere in
Europe. While it might be unacceptable to openly admit to anti-Semitism, people
such as Anelka and Parker have no qualms about openly associating with the likes
of Dieudonne. In explaining why he made the salute, Anelka claimed that “this
gesture was just a special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonne.” In
interviews in the past Anelka, 34, who is on his way out of soccer, has said
that he would like to go into the movie business with his friend Dieudonne.
Parker made the salute together with Dieudonne.
And while the venue for
his performances is the tiny, independent Théâtre de la Main d’Or in Paris,
Dieudonne’s audience reportedly includes mainstream middle- class French people.
His appeal goes beyond the vast ghettos called les banlieues on the outskirts of
Paris and other big French cities that are populated largely by black and Arab
immigrants, where he is seen as a hero.
It was no coincidence that
Dieudonne’s transformation took place precisely at a time when anti-Jewish and
anti-Israel sentiment was becoming more popular in Europe. Pierre-Andre
Taguieff, a French specialist on racism, told The New Yorker that Dieudonne “has
quite a keen intuition for the movements of public opinion and he immediately
sought to instrumentalize this creeping anti-Antisemitism in public opinion by
bringing it into his sketches, as a popular provocation, as a means of
connecting with people on a visceral level.”
The popularity of the
quenelle salute is a reflection of the popularity of Dieudonne. And his
popularity is in turn a testament to the increasing acceptability of
anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist sentiments in France and elsewhere in Europe. And
this, to put it mildly, is a worrying trend.