French ‘quenelle’ comedian faces trial for gas chamber slur

Dieudonné has been convicted seven times for incitement against Jews

Anti-Semitic French comic performer Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala (photo credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0 by Jastrow, Wikimedia Commons)
Anti-Semitic French comic performer Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala (photo credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0 by Jastrow, Wikimedia Commons)

A French comedian who implied that a Jewish journalist belonged in a gas chamber may be tried for racial incitement for the eighth time.

Paris prosecutors on Monday ordered the opening of a criminal investigation against the comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala on suspicion of incitement to racial hatred, according to the news site They were reacting to the airing of a television show about Dieudonné earlier this month on France 2, in which Dieudonné said: “When I hear about Patrick Cohen, I say to myself: You see, the gas chambers… It’s a shame.”

Cohen, a veteran journalist for France Inter, earlier this year criticized France 2 for giving airtime to people with what he termed “sick minds.” He named Dieudonné along with Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss professor who is banned from entering the United States for his support for Palestinian terrorist groups; Holocaust denier Alain Soral; and Marc-Edouard Nabe, an anti-Zionist writer who has been accused of anti-Semitism.

Last month, Dieudonné, a Frenchman of Cameroonian origins, was convicted for racial incitement against Jews in another one of his shows. It was his seventh conviction for the same offense, according to LICRA, the France-based International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism.

Last week, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said that his ministry was considering banning public performances by Dieudonné because he seemed undeterred by the convictions, which came with tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

In recent months, French media have devoted increasing coverage to the spreading of Dieudonné’s ideas in French society, most notably with the increasingly popular “quenelle” gesture — a quasi-Nazi salute designed to circumvent France’s laws against displaying Nazi symbols.

Dieudonné also coined the phrase “shoananas” — a mashup of the Hebrew word for Holocaust and the French word for pineapple, which is seen as a way of suggesting the Holocaust is a myth without violating French laws against genocide denial.

Dieudonné is at the center of a furious row over the quenelle, exacerbated by the performance of the salute by top soccer player Nicolas Anelka on Saturday.

Anelka performed the gesture to celebrate scoring a goal in the English Premier League, a move praised by Dieudonné on his Facebook page: “Excellent live quenelle by Anelka,” he wrote.”‘Thanks for the support.”

The quenelle is rapidly spreading among anti-Semites in Europe and is being used by individuals to fly under the radar of strict anti-hate speech laws in parts of the continent. The signal, extending one’s right hand toward the ground while the left hand grasps the shoulder, was devised by Dieudonné. The comedian has denied that the gesture is anti-Semitic, arguing that it is in fact “anti-establishment.”

Anelka, for his part, drew widespread condemnation and criticism for the gesture, which he made after scoring for his English club West Bromwich Albion in a game against West Ham United. He said it was “a special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonné.”

The soccer player defended himself Sunday by mistaking US President Barack Obama for a fan of the offending salute, posting a picture of Obama, rapper Jay Z, and his wife singer Beyonce making a similar gesture. Obama and the two star performers were in fact posing for a picture doing the well-known “brush off the shoulders” hip-hop move at a NYC fundraiser, which has no connection to the quenelle.

Nicolas Anelka makes the 'quenelle' gesture on December 28 (screenshot: YouTube)
Nicolas Anelka makes the ‘quenelle’ gesture on December 28 (screenshot: YouTube)

Anelka is now being investigated by the Football Association, and could be suspended for several games.

France’s former sports minister Chantal Jouanno demanded sanctions against the soccer star. “The quenelle is a Nazi gesture that is clearly anti-Semitic and known to be such,” she said. “There’s no point in arguing about the interpretation.”

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said he would seek a ban on Dieudonné’s shows “on the grounds that they were a threat to public order,” the Guardian reported Sunday.

According to the report, citing an interview in Le Parisien, the last straw for Valls was the comedian’s remarks about Jewish journalist Cohen.

French comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala performing the quenelle in 2008 (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)
French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala performing the quenelle in 2008 (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

At least three French cities withdrew from the comedian’s initial 27-venue show, including Caen, Montbéliard and Nice, while tickets in Marseille were no longer available as of Sunday, according to the Guardian report. Authorities in other cities were also preparing for the legal move by the interior minister.

Over the past two months, the “quenelle” trend has gained popularity, prompting hundreds of Europeans to post pictures of themselves online performing the heil-like salute. Many of the images were taken at sensitive sites such as in the Auschwitz concentration camp, the Anne Frank House and even the Western Wall.

“The quenelle is too vague to be treated like a Nazi salute,” Anne-Sophie Laguens, a former secretary of the conference of lawyers of the Paris bar association, wrote in a legal analysis published in September in the Le Nouvel Observateur weekly.

Until recently, most Frenchmen knew the word quenelle to mean a sort of dumpling or cookie. But after Dieudonné appropriated the word to refer to a salute of his own invention, the gesture has taken on anti-Semitic overtones.

Dieudonné, a professed anti-Semite, Hamas supporter and Holocaust denier, was convicted last month for a seventh time of incitement against Jews and slapped with a $36,000 fine. Like the Nazi salute, the quenelle is seen as a variant of the Roman salute and, considering its inventor’s penchant for defiance of France’s anti-Nazi laws, is understood to challenge the prohibition on performing the Nazi salute.

“It’s an inverted Nazi salute,” Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF Jewish umbrella group, told the French media recently.

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