On Saturday December 28th 2013, a French Muslim soccer player, Nicolas Anelka (aka: Abdul-Salam Bilal), scored a goal for his club, West Bromwich Albion, in front of thousands of cheering fans and millions more around the world watching on television. He showed no joy. He did not even smile. He extended one hand straight down and touched the other to his shoulder. Most of those who saw did not understand. For many others, the meaning was clear: he was performing a "quenelle", the reverse Nazi-style salute invented by the French "comedian" Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala. For the last couple of years, "quenelles" have become a trend in France and throughout Europe.
Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala demonstrates the "quenelle" salute with NBA player Tony Parker. (Image source: Twitter)
Pictures of people performing "quenelles" also multiplied: "quenelles" in front of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin; on the train tracks leading to the Auschwitz death camp; beside a picture of Anne Frank in Amsterdam; and in the courtyard of the school where three Jewish children and a teacher were murdered by Mohamed Merah in Toulouse.
The photos also show "quenelles" by famous athletes: soccer players, such as Nicolas Anelka; basketball players such as Tony Parker (he recently apologized, saying he did not know the meaning of the gesture), and world judo champion, Teddy Riner.
It has long been common knowledge in France that Dieudonné is an anti-Semite and that "quenelles" were performed by countless people. It is also common knowledge that Dieudonné's shows were explicitly anti-Semitic and attracted large crowds, but until recently, nobody paid attention.
For many, however, Nicolas Anelka's "quenelle" during the soccer match went a step too far, and occurred at the wrong moment: only one week after Dieudonné himself, for many, went a step too far. In a video posted on YouTube, and widely seen before being removed, he expressed a longing to bring back the gas chambers in which which the Nazis gassed the Jews. He also added an ambiguous sentence that unambiguously meant it was "too bad" that a Jewish journalist, Patrick Cohen, could not be gassed. A few hours after the video was posted, a hacker tracked down some of those who posted their own "quenelles" pictures on Dieudonné's website and made their addresses public.
Immediately after Anelka's "quenelle", Valérie Fourneyron, French Sports Minister, called Anelka's gesture "a disgusting provocation" and an "incitement to hatred." A few hours after that, Manuel Valls, French Minister of the Interior, spoke of "the need to ban" Dieudonné's public appearances -- the first time since World War II that the French government and France's highest administrative court, the Council of State, have ordered a ban to go into effect.
Protests are being organized by Jewish movements in front of the Paris theater where Dieudonné's performances are still scheduled, and the famous Nazi hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld have said they will participate.
All the fuss, however will be almost certainly useless.
Dieudonné's popularity is intact and will not vanish. It is likely even to increase. Nicolas Anelka is a hero in French and British Muslim suburbs, and he will stay a hero. He has said that when he will stop playing soccer, he will become an actor and work with his friend, Dieudonné. Dieudonné's shows and sketches, available on-line, have attracted over a million views. He has created a network of sympathizers and a website called "Dieudosphere," where they can share and exchange information. Everything he posts goes viral.
Sociologist Michel Wieworka wrote in Le Monde on December 31st, that Dieudonné is a "symptom," and he is right: Dieudonné became the symptom -- and the symbol -- of the new anti-Semitism that is gaining ground in France and throughout Europe.
It is an anti-Semitism that seems to come mostly from people affiliated with the French radical "left": members and sympathizers of Trotskyist movements, of the neo-communist French "Left Front", and of "pro-Palestinian" organizations such as Europalestine. Its followers accuse the Jews of having "monopolized" human sufferings, of having "rapaciousness" behind the "Holocaust industry" and of being complicit in the "imperialist crimes" committed by Israel against the "Palestinians". Unsurprisingly, a growing number of young Muslims identify with these arguments.
Members of the politically right-leaning "nationalist revolutionary" parties, and other Neo-Nazi organizations see all this as a boon and an exoneration. They hate Islam, but they hate Jews and Israel even more, and when people such as Dieudonné say that "Zionists" in the Middle East are worse than Nazis, or that Holocaust commemorations are "memorial pornography," they exult.
When Dieudonné invites a famous Holocaust -denier such as Robert Faurisson on stage, and then praises the gas chambers, members of the audience are full of joy. When Dieudonné sings "Shoah-Ananas" ["Holocaust Pineapple"] in the company of Faurisson, the audience sings along with gusto. "The Anti-Semite," a movie Dieudonné made with Iranian money to mock the Auschwitz concentration camp, was never released in theaters, but has became an on-line success anyhow.
This new anti-Semitism is especially strong in France, where there is a deeply rooted leftist tradition: for decades, the French Communist Party earned more than 20% of the vote in every election. Today, openly Marxist parties are still an important part of the political landscape. Several radical politicians openly support Islamists and Arab terrorists. A few weeks ago, the mayor of Bagnolet, a small town in the Paris suburbs, organized a ceremony to make Georges Ibrahim Abdallah a honorary citizen of his city. Abdallah happens to be a killer sentenced to life in prison in France for the murders of Charles R. Ray, assistant U.S. military attaché in Paris, and Yaakov Bar-Simantov, an Israeli diplomat.
France has never fully confronted its collaborationist past: after World War II, General de Gaulle disseminated the idea that France was full of members of a "Resistance," who liberated the country from the Nazis. It was only in 1995 that a French President acknowledged France's responsibility in the mass-deportation of the Jews.
In 1967, just twenty two years after the Holocaust ended, General de Gaulle was the first European leader to make anti-Semitic remarks about Israel; he spoke of the Jewish people as "self-assured and domineering" -- a description many might think fits De Gaulle. Since De Gaulle's slur, however, France has been at the forefront of the demonization and boycotting of Israel.
De Gaulle also embarked France on a pro-Arab foreign policy that led to massive Muslim immigration and to strong support for the "Palestinian cause." Today France has the largest Muslim population in Europe -- more than six million people (10% of the general population) -- and the number is rapidly increasing .
On the "far right," since 1984, the National Front party has been one of the country's three main political forces, and its influence is still growing. Although ts current leader, Marine Le Pen, has been trying to "de-demonize" it, her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the man who said that the gas chambers were "just a detail in the history of World War II," remains enormously influential -- and is a close friend of Dieudonné and the godfather of his fourth child.
Ironically, Dieudonné started his career as an "anti-racist" "leftist" comedian, who worked with a Jew, Elie Semoun. A few years later, he became openly "anti-Zionist." In 2003, in a prime-time TV show, he denounced the "American-Zionist axis," and added, while performing a Nazi salute, "Heil Israel." He broke with Semoun and began using anti-Semitic innuendos more and more often. He ceased being invited on TV, but gained an audience beyond his dreams.
His fame now goes way beyond the borders of France; in today's Europe, a sinister clown who inflames sick emotions has become an influential political spokesman. His popularity also reveals the disquieting resurgence of a broader sickness that has mutated but has not disappeared -- and will not disappear.
The new anti-Semitism is not different from the old anti-Semitism; the victims remain the same and, for the most part, the words remain the same: Jews were described as "greedy" and having "too much power." They are again described as "greedy" and having "too much power." They were presented as being members of an international "conspiracy." Now, the view of a "Jewish conspiracy" to rule the world is spreading again, even if, to avoid being accused of being anti-Semites, the new anti-Semites call it a "Zionist conspiracy" instead.
In Europe, every day, anti-Jewish hatred is becoming more and more acceptable. It has found new ways to seduce and indoctrinate the public, and it has found a new audience while retaining its old one.
The French government and the Jewish organizations have every reason to react. But even if they could stop Dieudonné, it does not mean they will stop what Dieudonné has come to embody.
Even if they decided to broaden their scope, to combat anti-Semitism as it exists now in Europe -- such as a request to the French government to denounce the way Israel is treated in the mainstream media and by many European intellectuals and politicians -- it would probably be asking too much.
Anti-Semitism is becoming frightfully "banal" in Europe once again. At a time when Europe is in economic, cultural, political and moral crisis, anti-Semitism gives people a scapegoat that they can easily designate as responsible for their misfortunes, and which they can easily loathe.
The Jews have been used in Europe for twenty centuries as scapegoats; seven decades ago, this scapegoating led to the worst crimes in the modern era.
A growing number of Jews now feel it is safer to leave Europe, and that is what they do.