The mayor of Paris added his voice to calls for a ban on controversial comedian Dieudonne, the inventor of a qausi-Nazi salute seen as anti-Semitic.
In an interview on Europe 1 radio, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe said it was time to bring an end to the performer’s outbursts, AFP reported on Monday.
“We must ban the performances (of the comedian),” Delanoe said, and described Dieudonne as someone who “defends crimes against humanity.”
Dieudonne is known for anti-Semitic jokes, and has also recently popularized the quenelle, a hand gesture redolent of a Nazi salute, which is intended to fly under the radar of France’s strict anti-hate speech laws.
The statements by the mayor came after Interior Minister Manuel Valls made similar calls to act against Dieudonne, whose fame grew rapidly in recent months after his “quenelle” arm-gesture gained popularity in Europe.
Valls has said the gesture, in which one arm is held out straight point downward with the other across the chest, is an “inverted Nazi salute.” The minister is reportedly looking at ways to prevent Dieudonne from taking the stage under the charge that his performances threaten public order.
A number of anti-racism organizations have said that they will act against the spreading phenomenon of quenelle incidents, in which people pose for photographs as they do the salute, often at places of Jewish significance such as synagogues or Holocaust memorials.
A photo posted on French news sites last week showed a man doing the quenelle in front of the Jewish school in Toulouse where an Islamic extremist gunned down three children and a rabbi in March 2012. Another showed two soldiers saluting in front of a Paris synagogue.
One photo shows the interior minister surrounded by youth doing the quenelle at a September inauguration, clearly without his knowledge.
England-based French soccer star Nicolas Anelka used the quenelle late last month to celebrate a goal, and basketball star Tony Parker did it years ago. Both said they did not understand it was an anti-Semitic gesture. Parker said in a mea culpa released by the San Antonio Spurs that he “thought it was part of a comedy act.” Anelka, by contrast, said he was friendly with Dieudonne and has not apologized.
On Sunday SOS Racisme, that campaigns against racism, said it will sue anyone who makes or spreads quenelle photographs “that leave no doubt” as to the anti-Semitic intentions of the salute, AFP reported.
Later that day the French-based International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism said it was poised to launch legal action in response to quenelle incidents outside a synagogue in the Bordeaux region, in southwest France,
Clothilde Chapuis, from LICRA, said that the “impunity” over quenelle incidents would now be over.
Efforts are also spreading to blacklist comedian Dieudonne and keep him from performing in some towns.
The mayor of the eastern city of Nancy, Andre Rossinot, issued a statement Thursday saying that when free expression “transforms into racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic propaganda there is reason to react.”
Rossinot has asked the state representative to try to ban a Dieudonne appearance there on January 18. Nearby Metz and the southern city of Marseille are also looking for ways to keep him from coming to town.
In the western town of Nantes, Nazi Hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld plan to mount a campaign to keep him from performing.
Dieudonne, who goes only by his first name, is adamant the quenelle — named for a fish dumpling eaten in some parts of the country — is an anti-establishment sign meaning “shove it.”
The 47-year-old Dieudonne has been convicted more than a half-dozen times for inciting racial hatred or anti-Semitism over the years.
He was most recently convicted last fall for using the word “Shoananas,” a mash-up of the Hebrew word for Holocaust and the French word for pineapple, seen as making light of the Holocaust.
An investigation also opened this week after Dieudonne allegedly made an anti-Semitic slur toward a Jewish journalist on France-Inter radio. “When I hear him (the journalist) talk, you see … I say to myself gas chambers … A pity,” Dieudonne said during a performance last month, parts of which were shown on French TV.
“I think 2014 will be the year of the quenelle,” Dieudonne said in a video posted this week on You Tube. In that video, Dieudonne also denied he is anti-Semitic: “There’s a misunderstanding. I don’t say I won’t be one day. I leave that possibility open.”
Sociologist Michel Wieviorka wrote a commentary in last Thursday’s Le Monde arguing that Dieudonne’s mixed-bag audience has a common denominator — anti-Semitism.
“How does he please the nationalist extreme right as much as recently immigrated populations …? The paradox is resolved (via) anti-Semitism, which … brings together people that otherwise are separated by everything,” he wrote.
The hand sign is ambiguous since it so closely resembles a “bras d’honneur,” a vulgar gesture used in France that is the equivalent of giving the finger.
France has issued bans in the past, directed toward Muslim women with veiled faces and head scarves in classrooms. But never has an entertainer been the object of a blanket ban.
In Internet videos, the comic mocks the justice system and his court losses, and calls on fans to donate to help his cause.
But the videos include sketches making light of the Holocaust. In one mocking video, Dieudonne portrays an American soldier getting a tour of Auschwitz from an inmate at the death camp. The video, washed in old-time sepia hues, is accompanied by the jingling music of a player piano and pours scorn on the Holocaust.
Dieudonne originally rose to fame as part of a comedy duo with the noted Jewish comedian Elie Semoun. The two regularly parodied everyday racism and discrimination in France before they fell out.
Years later, Dieudonne befriended the founder of the far-right National Front party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is godfather to one of his children.
Associated Press contributed to this report.