(Note from Editor: French soccer player Nicolas Anelka tweeted a photo of Obama, Beyonce and JayZ in which they were supposedly doing the quenelle. The author of this piece perfectly explains the photo, which has been removed.)
There are only two things I can’t stand in this world – people who are intolerant of other people’s cultures and…the French.
There is a troubling trend tainting French culture and the entertainment world – the quenelle. Pronounced [kuh-nel], it is a culinary term used to describe a dumpling of finely chopped meat or seafood bound with eggs and poached in stock or water. Controversial French comedian, Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, has bastardized its culinary usage turning the word quenelle into slang by associating it with an inverted Nazi Heil salute.
The quenelle has become increasingly prevalent in popular culture. Dieudonne’s trademark gesture has been seen from the stages of Theatre De La Main D’or, brandished on the professional soccer fields of Upton Park, tagged in vestiges of the Alamodome and has even made an appearance outside the gates of Auschewitz.
Despite coming under fire by French authorities for his on stage usage, Dieudonne has become embolden, proliferating his hate ideology beyond comedic circles into the world of the political and beyond. In 2002 and 2007 Dieudonne launched two failed runs for French presidential office on anti-Zionist platforms. Blurring the lines between entertainment and hate speech, Dieudonne made the onstage remark, “I think to myself, ‘Gas chambers … too bad they no longer exist,’” in reference to a prominent Jewish journalist.
Though he claims to have “many Jewish friends,” his closest friends adorn the headlines in similar fashion.
On December 28, West Bromwich Albion soccer striker, Nicolas Anelka, brandished the quenelle as a goal celebration over rivals West Ham United. Defiant and recalcitrant, Anelka denied that the gesture was racist or anti-Semitic. Rather, Anelka suggested that the gesture was merely “anti-establishment.”
Defending his usage of the gesture, Anelka tweeted a picture of President Obama displaying what he believed was the quenelle alongside Jay-Z and Beyonce. Detractors claim that the actors are displaying the “dirt off your shoulder” gesture from lyrics made popular from Jay-Z’s 2003 album. The perception that rap, pop and presidential icons are brandishing an anti-Semitic gesture should be cause for alarm – at least on the part of their publicists and Jay Carney. After all, it is the seriousness of charge that matters, not the intent.
Innocuous or not, President Obama has an obligation to address his use of the politically-charged gesture while distancing himself from any association of anti-Semitism. In doing so, President Obama can wield his political power to educate the public of the gesture’s significance and offensiveness while using his popular influence to squelch the use of the quenelle among his followers. (Jay-Z and Beyonce would be wise to do the same.)
In a time when French anti-Semitism is on the rise, the leader of the free world has an obligation to condemn racist provocations by his Gallic allies. In 2012, France witnessed a 22% increase in racist and anti-Semitic attacks, which prompted French Aliyah – a mass immigration of French Jews to their homeland, Israel.
In 2012, a rabbi and three students were gunned down by an Islamic extremist in front of gates of Ohr Torah School. A year later, another Ohr Torah student was attacked by a knife-wielding woman shouting anti-Semitic epithets.
Babylonian Aliyah is understandable. Egyptian Aliyah is understandable. But French Aliyah?
The lack of public outcry and antipathy by the French populace is incomprehensible given the predicated lessons learned from the genocide of just two generations ago. The French public cannot legitimately deny the Holocaust given that visible remnants of the Drancy concentration camp, a holding cell used for Jews awaiting deportation, remain in the northeast suburbs of Paris.
Even though the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) has made strides in deterring anti-racist gestures and remarks by players, the UEFA has failed to reign in the increasing displays of anti-Semitism amongst its spectators. Numerous Football Against Racism campaigns (over 700 initiatives to be exact) and spectator sanctions of partial stadium closures for first offences and full stadium closures for the second, yet football fans continue to circumvent decorum by chanting “Yids” and Heil Hitler during matches.
Despite public opinion campaigns and crowd control measures, French hostility marches on to torment its Jewish populace. Photos of brandished quenelles continue to be taken outside the gates of the Ohr Torah School.
The lack of protest is reminiscent of escalation and antipathy not seen since the 1930s. To echo Judgment at Nuremberg, “What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies, and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part?…What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights?” And there it is–what difference does it make?