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“It’s an anti-establishment gesture, not a racist or anti-Semitic one, as the media would have you believe to discredit us,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Outside France, the quenelle is virtually unknown. This has allowed the users of anti-Semitic Internet forums to relish the irony of photographs of French tourists performing the quenelle while posing with an oblivious Israeli soldier and at the Western Wall.
But in France, the gesture is being treated with increasing seriousness by government officials. In a statement Monday to supporters of the CRIF, President Francois Hollande suggested his government would move to undermine the sense of legal impunity now enjoyed by those who perform the quenelle.
“We will act, with the government led by [Prime Minister] Jean-Marc Ayrault, to shake the tranquility which, under the cover of anonymity, facilitates shameful actions online,” Hollande said. “But also we will fight against the sarcasm of those who purport to be humorists but are actually professional anti-Semites.”
Among French Jews, there is considerable support for stretching France’s restrictive laws on incitement to include the quenelle and the shoananas. But as the fight against anti-Semitism intensifies in France, so does criticism that it places too many restrictions on freedom of expression.
Many were outraged by a French court ruling in January that forced Twitter to hand over details about users who posted anti-Semitic messages. Others sounded the alarm when a court last month ordered the censoring of five books containing anti-Semitic texts, including one first published 122 years ago and reproduced many times.
“They aspire to spread their hate with total impunity while intimidating those who seek to apply the law,” Jonathan Hayoun, the president of the Union for French Students who led the fight against Twitter, wrote on the French edition of the Huffington Post this month, referring to Dieudonne and his associate, Alain Soral. “They seek to make racism an opinion, not an offense. We therefore continue to do what we can to pursue justice.”
As for Dieudonne, he seems to be enjoying his ongoing attempts to test the limits of French anti-hate laws. In a video blog post last month, he showed a picture of John Travolta on the dance floor, one hand stretched heavenward.
The caption? Disco Nazi.