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Proletarian issue 59 (April 2014)
Quenelle: ‘Up yours’ to the system and to zionist Israel!
French comedian Dieudonné does not baulk in the face of intimidation from the French government.
Comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala continues to stand his ground in the face of a concerted campaign of defamation and persecution by the French authorities, which has now been taken up by imperialist media around the world.

He is accused by the great and the good of the western political establishment (well, known, of course, for its great love of unity among workers ...) of ‘inciting racial hatred’ in his stage act, which includes satirical comments about the state of Israel and its zionist supporters. The British government joined this attack in Februrary by imposing a ban on the comedian’s entry to the UK on grounds of ‘public security’.

Dieudonné has been a relatively popular comedian on the French circuit for over 15 years, but it is only in the last few months that his fame has spread to Britain. At the end of 2013, in a goal celebration, West Bromwich Albion player Nicolas Anelka performed a ‘quenelle’ – a gesture made popular by Dieudonné. This act shot both Dieudonné and Anelka into the news, and ultimately resulted in Anelka being punished by the FA with a five-match ban.

As we go to print, FIFA, world football’s governing body, is considering a worldwide suspension for the player, and West Bromwich Albion has terminated his contract, so he is currently without a club.

What is a quenelle?

Quenelle in culinary terms is a dumpling – typically an elongated fish or meatball dish, which looks a bit like a suppository. The quenelle gesture is performed with one arm pointing to the ground while the other touches the shoulder. It has a symbolic meaning of shoving a quenelle up the backside of your enemy, in a similar vein to the ‘up yours’ gesture in Britain. Dieudonné has explained that it’s “a kind of ‘up yours’ gesture to the establishment, with an in the ass dimension. But it’s a quenelle [dumpling], so it’s a bit softer, less violent.”

Dieudonné first used the gesture in 2005 and has incorporated it in to a number of his comedy sketches over the years. He also used it on his campaigning poster when he stood in the 2009 European elections for the ‘anti-zionist party’ (Parti antisioniste).

This anti-establishment pose that Dieudonné has popularised in France has been branded by the zionist lobby as an ‘anti-semitic’ gesture that targets jews and incites racism. It has been likened to an inverted Hitler salute.

Despite Dieudonné’s explanation, repeatedly given by him and others, that the gesture is anti-establishment, the claims that it is anti-semitic have dominated corporate media on both sides of the Channel. It is for this reason that Anelka has been banned by the FA under the charge that the gesture was “strongly associated with anti-semitism” because it was “strongly associated with Dieudonné”.

Dieudonné – a satirical performer

Dieudonné’s stand-up routines comprise satirical sketches in which he performs one or a number of characters. At times, other actors are part of the routine, but often he performs all the parts himself. The sketches cover a multitude of issues, and every section of French society is ridiculed and unpicked.

However, ever since a performance in 2003 on a French TV show in which Dieudonné impersonated an extremist Israeli settler infuriated by the presence of an Arab, the comedian has repeatedly faced charges and fines for comments he has made in relation to Israel, zionism and its supporters – all under the pretext of his comments or routines being ‘anti-semitic’.

In an interview with Press TV aired on 7 April 2010, Dieudonné outlined his position in relation to the freedom to criticise Israel: “I have done sketches about all forms of extremism, but freedom of speech stops, in France, when it comes to criticising Israel. We don’t have the right to talk about it.”

He continued: “in France, for example, we commemorate only one of the events that have caused suffering for people – the holocaust. Other events where mankind has suffered injustice are completely overlooked. For example, slavery in French colonies, the Algerian war, and many other events are never mentioned. The zionist lobby imposes an unequal competition, a hierarchy in the sufferings of different communities, which is completely obscene.”

Despite the court actions and fines, Dieudonné has not relented in his inclusion of satirical sketches lampooning the Israeli state on stage. Nor has he stopped making public comments about the zionist lobby. Instead, he has used the accusations against him as part of his routine, stood firm against the defamation campaign, and thus become a real thorn in the side of the French imperialist establishment.

In response to the rising popularity of the quenelle, opposition from zionists has been intensifying. The president of the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism(LICRA), Alain Jakubowicz, has claimed that the gesture signifies “the sodomisation of victims of the holocaust”(!). Dieudonné has responded to this claim by taking legal action against Mr Jakubowicz for libel.

This is characteristic of the comedian. Rather than being intimidated by slanderous attacks, he has, throughout his career, defended his position and responded to persecution by challenging accusations and by finding alternative ways of reaching his audience.

Banned as a ‘threat to public order’

The most recent ban by the French government at the beginning of January was aimed at stopping Dieudonné’s ‘Le Mur’ (The Wall) show from touring through France during the first part of this year on grounds that he is a ‘threat to public order’. On 6 January, interior minister Manuel Valls made it possible for local officials to ban performances considered ‘anti-semitic’ and sent a memo to all local authorities supporting the use of the ban entitled: “The struggle against racism and anti-semitism – demonstrations and public reaction – performances by Mr Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala”.

Initially, eight of the 30 areas where Dieudonné was due to tour banned him from performing. Dieudonné, however, committed himself to challenging every one of the decisions and, on 10 January, was successful in getting the ban in Nantes (where the concert hall had sold out) overturned. Just minutes after the judge’s ruling, however, Minister Valls appealed to the Council of States to intervene and reinstate the ban. Such a response from the government indicates their fear of the threat Dieudonné poses to their order!

As Dieudonné pointed out in an interview for La Capitale: “They have tried everything to destroy me. I have suffered seven searches; I have been visited by 45 police officers, the financial brigade, the ushers in the night, etc. It is as if I was the ultimate threat to the Republic!” (Interview exclusive de Dieudonné: ‘On a tout essayé pour me détruire ...’ by Oliver Mukuna, 13 March 2014)

Anti-zionist is not anti-semitic

Cyril, 31, a vineyard worker, told one interviewer: “I adore Dieudonné. He is not like all those other boring comedians, who go on about the same kind of stuff. He talks about life as it really is. He is educational.

“I’m not anti-semitic. Dieudonné is not anti-semitic. He laughs at everyone. But in this country, there is one community that no-one is allowed to laugh at ... By trying to ban him, they are proving his point. They are just making him even more popular.” (Quoted in ‘An act of cruelty: An audience with Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, the man behind the “quenelle” salute’, Independent, 28 January 2014)

According to the dictionary definition, ‘anti-semitism’ actually means a prejudice against and loathing of Semitic peoples, who include not only jews of middle-eastern descent but also Arabs. However, this definition has been distorted in modern propaganda parlance so that the term ‘anti-semitic’ is now commonly used to refer to a prejudice against and loathing of jews only (cutting out the Arabs from the definition of a ‘semite’, but including into it the millions of European jews who are not descended from Semitic tribes).

The ‘inevitability’ of anti-jewish prejudice amongst non-jews has long been used by zionists as part of their justification for the state of Israel. The half-baked theory goes that jews are so envied and hated by ‘anti-semites’ that a separate jewish state is essential for their protection. This nonsensical assertion of a ‘built-in’ anti-jewish prejudice among all non-jews was given a massive (and, to Israel’s founding fathers, a most welcome) boost by the Nazi holocaust in Europe, although the only thing that institutionalised scapegoating and industrial slaughter really proved was the intrinsic barbarity of even the most ‘civilised’ imperialist country when faced with a deep economic crisis and a revolutionary working class.

Since Israel assumed such importance as the centrepiece of imperialism’s strategy for dominating of the Middle East, the constant reaffirmation by imperialist ideologues of the jewish holocaust as ‘The Worst Holocaust Of All Time’, of jewish suffering as ‘The Worst Suffering Of All Time’, and of ‘anti-semitism’ as ‘The Worst and Most Unforgivable Type of Racism’ has been a key plank upholding the legitimacy of the world’s most obviously illegitimate, racist and genocidal state.

In France, this one-sided reverence for the suffering of the jews (and its concomitant reverence for the untouchability of Israel) has been enthusiastically promoted by the state. For decades, all those who criticised Israel have been silenced or defamed as ‘anti-semites’ and the spectre of The Holocaust has been dredged up to scare workers away from listening to their perfectly valid criticisms.

In the last twenty years, while religious faith and political commitment have declined drastically, the Holocaust, called the Shoah in France, has gradually become a sort of state religion. Schools commemorate the Shoah annually; it increasingly dominates historical consciousness, which in other areas is declining along with many humanistic studies.

In particular, of all the events in France’s long history, the only one protected by law is the Shoah. The so-called Gayssot Law bans any questioning of the history of the Shoah – an altogether unprecedented interference with freedom of speech. Moreover, certain organisations, such as LICRA, have been granted the privilege of suing individuals on the basis of ‘incitement to racial hatred’ (very broadly and unevenly interpreted) with the possibility of collecting damages on behalf of the ‘injured community’.

In practice, these laws are used primarily to prosecute alleged ‘anti-semitism’ or ‘negationism’ concerning the Shoah. Even though they frequently are thrown out of court, such lawsuits constitute harassment and intimidation. France is the rare country where the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement against Israeli settlement practices can also be attacked as ‘incitement to racial hatred’.” (‘The bête noir of the French establishment’ by Diana Johnstone, counterpunch.org, 1 January 2014)

Dieudonné has shown that he is wise to these attempts to silence and intimidate him, and, despite the very real financial implications and limitations to his career, he has stood by his principles and continued to criticise the state of Israel. His defiant stance not only poses a threat to the zionist lobby, but, as his satirical comedy also penetrates further into the status quo of French society, his threat is felt by the whole of the establishment.
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