Paris — Mayors of several French cities lined up on Tuesday to ban the shows of a comedian the government accuses of insulting the memory of Holocaust victims and threatening public order with anti-Semitic jibes.
Local authorities in Nantes barred the opening date in Dieudonne M’bala M’bala’s tour set for Thursday, hours after similar shows were banned by mayors in Marseille, Bordeaux and Tours.
The row is the latest upset to ties between France’s large Muslim and Jewish communities. It won international attention last week after former France striker Nicolas Anelka celebrated an English Premier League goal with a salute popularised by Dieudonne which critics say has an anti-Semitic connotation.
“I am calling on all representatives of the state, particularly its prefects, to be on alert and inflexible,” President Francois Hollande said, referring to regional officials charged with maintaining law and order in France.
“No one should be able to use this show for provocation and to promote openly anti-Semitic ideas,” he told a meeting of senior government officials in Paris.
Lawyers for Dieudonne, who has been fined repeatedly for hate speech, said they would take legal action to defend him.
“Freedom of expression is not at the whim of governments or a comedian,” they said in a statement announcing the launch of legal complaints for defamation and invasion of privacy.
They accused the Socialist government of using the issue to rally voters ahead of municipal and European elections in coming months where widespread anger at unemployment is seen fuelling a strong vote for the far-right National Front.
Its leader, Marine Le Pen, has striven to distance the party from its earlier anti-Semitic leanings. She told Le Figaro newspaper she was “shocked” by Dieudonne but criticised the government for exaggerating the importance of the affair.