Academic journal article Jewish Political Studies Review

French Jewry and the Dieudonné Affair

Academic journal article Jewish Political Studies Review

French Jewry and the Dieudonné Affair

Article excerpt

The Jewish community in France currently is in the midst of one of its most difficult periods since the end of World War II. According to the Jerusalem Post, "French aliya figures correlate with a spike in anti-Semitic attacks registered last year: A total of 614 recorded incidents that constituted a 58% increase from 2011. French participation in Israels Masa program, which sends Jewish students to study in Israel for periods up to a year rose by 25% in 2013, from 750 last year. 3,120 French Jews moved to Israel in 2013, up from 1,916 in 2012."1 Unfortunately, this is only part of the story. There were over twice as many antisemitic incidents in France in 2014 than in 2013, including violent demonstrations which resembled pogroms. Jews were attacked in public; Jewish businesses were torched and vandalized and synagogues were targeted. An increasing number of Jews are leaving France. Some 6,900 Jews immigrated to Israel in 2014, nearly twice as many as in 2013. A similar number have relocated to England.

In retrospect, the writing has been on the wall for some time. In addition to the violence noted above, the brutal kidnapping, torture and murder of lian Halimi in Paris in 2006 because he was a Jew and the slaughter ol a rabbi and three Jewish children at the Otzar Hatorah School in Toulouse in 2012 have had profound repercussions throughout French Jewry. In addition, the insecurity of French Jews has been exacerbated by the popularity and notoriety of a second-rate, stand-up anti-Jewish comedian and aspiring politician with an unusual name, Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala, known as simply as Dieudonné ("God-given"). According to a survey conducted in January 2014,2 some 16 percent of the French sympathized with Dieudonné and 4 percent actually like him. As the population of France is close to 66 million, the figures are fairly high. The comedian is a staple of many talk shows, television and radio programs, editorials in mainstream papers, lengthy articles in major magazines and discussions among the political and cultural elites. The influential French weekly, Le Nouvel Observateur, devoted the issue of January 9, 2014 to Dieudonné. According to its columnist Francois Reynaert, "in one single week there were about 250,000 op-eds on the question."3 There is even a book about him.4

Born in 1966 to an African father from Cameroon and a French mother who were divorced when he was about a year old, Dieudonné was raised by his mother in an affluent Paris suburb. In an interview in the weekly Le Point, in February 2014,5 she stated that "being of mixed race allowed him to be confronted at times with racism and he became aware early of problems of discrimination." After graduating from high school, he field several jobs and tried his luck on stage with a former schoolmate, the Jewish comedian Elie Samoun. They began performing wherever they could. Their initial success in the early nineties resulted in Dieudonné s receiving a few bit parts in movies. In 1997 his relationship with Samoun ended and Dieudonné attempted to launch a political career. He took a leftist, pro-Palestinian position. In 2004, he lost an election to the European Parliament when he ran as a candidate of the Euro-Palestine party. In 2009, he failed a second time, as the head of an anti-Zionist party, with less than 1.3 percent of the vote. At the same time, he began to include extremely offensive jokes about Jews and the Holocaust in his repertoire. As his popularity increased, his remarks became more outré. In 2012, Dieudonné starred in a film produced by the Iranian Documentary and Experimental Film Center. Entitled The Anti-Semite, it was so replete with repugnant images from concentration camps and other tasteless sequences that a scheduled screening was canceled and the movie was banned. It is now only available online by subscription.6

Antisemitism in France is not new. In a drawing by the well-known French cartoonist, Denis Pessin, published in 2003, a Frenchman tells his companion, "Antisemitism is coming back," and the latter replies, "I did not even know it had left. …

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