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French fad’s ugly overtones

People do the “quenelle” in France in December while protesting against calls to ban performances by the comedian who popularized the controversial gesture.Getty Images

Dieudonné M’bala M’bala is a French comedian who has been cited for anti-Semitic slurs. He has referred to Jews as “slavers” and “bankers,” for example, and has suggested it was “a shame” that a well-known Jewish journalist didn’t die in “the gas chambers.” Though he’s been fined under France’s stiff hate-crime and anti-incitement laws, his following remains robust. Dieudonné’s online videos have been viewed by millions. And an unpleasant gesture that he calls the “quenelle” — it looks like a downward-sloping Nazi salute — has become a new and dismaying French fad.

Dieudonné first featured the salute in a campaign poster when he ran for office on what he called the Anti-Zionist List, and his fans embraced it. Though he claims it is merely a symbol of “anti-system” disaffection — a sort of “up yours” to the establishment — many find it hard to separate the man’s mockery of Jews from the gesture he has popularized. On social media, scores of people, including uniformed French soldiers, have posted images of themselves making the quenelle at sites associated with Jews and Jewish history.

Particularly offensive have been pictures of the salute at places that evoke anti-Semitic murder, such as Holocaust memorials, death camps, Anne Frank’s house, and the Jewish school in Toulouse where jihadist Mohammed Merah gunned down seven victims in 2012.


Some French politicians want to ban the quenelle, or even shut down Dieudonné’s act. But that would only add to his notoriety, which he relishes, and allow him to pose as a victim of the “system.” Rather, leaders in France and other European countries should continue to trumpet their objections to the quenelle, and its connection to anti-Semitism, lest this unfortunate national fad become an international one.