French President Francois Hollande used his televised New Year’s Eve speech to address resurgent anti-Semitism after the international outcry over French anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala’s quenelle salute.
In the speech, Hollande declared that he “will not condone anti-Semitism, racism and any form of discrimination… The values of the French Republic are not negotiable.”
His comments follow a statement from French Interior Minister Manuel Valls who condemned the comedian by name. “Dieudonne M’bala M’bala doesn’t seem to recognize any limits any more,” Valls said while announcing a legal review aimed at banning the comedian’s public appearances for public disorder.
The quenelle is a Nazi-style salute created by Dieudonné, along with several new words, including “Shoannanas” – a combination of Shoah, the Hebrew word for the Holocaust, and the French word for pineapple — that were designed to be as offensive as possible to Jews, without actually triggering tough French anti-hate speech laws. Dieudonné has been convicted seven times for racial incitement against Jews, and French prosecutors last week opened an eighth investigation against him for implying that a Jewish journalist belonged in a gas chamber.
Meanwhile, the quenelle gained further notoriety when French soccer player Nicolas Anelka was photographed making the gesture during a football match in Great Britain. On Sunday, NBA basketball player Tony Parker was also scandalized by a photograph of him performing the controversial salute with the comedian.
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Paris office, said, “Confronting the scourges of anti-Semitism and racism requires a sustained national effort.”
“It is reassuring for Jews and other minorities, indeed for all people of goodwill, that President Hollande and Interior Minister Manuel Valls have made it their priority to combat anti-Semitism and racism,” Rodan-Benzaquen said. “All political, religious and civil society leaders should join in this national battle against ignorance and hate.”
In a statement, the AJC compiled a list of the recent anti-Semitic acts in France, noting that the quenelle has been performed and photographed widely at Jewish sites, including earlier this week in front of the Jewish school in Toulouse where three schoolchildren and a teacher were brutally murdered in an anti-Semitic terror attack in 2012. In September, two soldiers were also punished by the French Army for making the gesture in uniform in front of a Paris synagogue.
The AJC cited a November report from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights that surveyed Jews in eight EU countries. In France, the FRA found that 85 per cent of French Jews see anti-Semitism as a problem and, 70 per cent fear becoming the victim of a hate crime.