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December 18, 2013 7

The Quenelle: Fascist or Fad?

What is the “quenelle”?  In addi­tion to being sort of a French ver­sion of gefilte fish, is it also a mod­ern ‘Nazi salute’ sweep­ing Europe?  Con­text matters.

An anti-Semitic ges­ture for some, an anti-establishment sym­bol for oth­ers, the mean­ing of the ‘quenelle’ is still vague.”  So reports French news­pa­per Le Figaro in a story on Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, a French come­dian and “pro­fes­sional anti-Semite” in the words of Roger Cukier­man, Pres­i­dent of the French Jew­ish rep­re­sen­ta­tive orga­ni­za­tion, CRIFADL has con­demned Dieudonne’s anti-Semitism on many occa­sions, most recently for his par­tic­i­pa­tion in an Iran­ian anti-Semitic con­fer­ence on “Hol­ly­wood­ism” and for his anti-Semitic polit­i­cal activ­ity.

Dieudonne was dragged back to a French court this week for fail­ing to pay an ear­lier fine levied on him for anti-Semitic remarks.  In the pre­vi­ous inci­dent, Dieudonne had called Jews “the world’s biggest crooks,” mocked the Holo­caust, and called for the release of Yous­souf Fofana, whose Gang of Bar­bar­ians had kid­napped, tor­tured, and mur­dered Ilan Hal­imi in 2006.

Even French Pres­i­dent François Hol­lande yes­ter­day referred indi­rectly – but clearly – to Dieudonne, con­demn­ing “those who claim to be come­di­ans but are just plain anti-Semites.”

Dieudonne is thought to have invented the “quenelle,” a salute with one arm down and the other bent at the elbow with an open hand on the oppo­site shoul­der, in 2009 as part of the elec­toral cam­paign of his Anti-Zionist Party.

When done in a Jew­ish con­text, anti-Semitic intent is obvious.

Alain Sorel, an anti-Semitic French filmmaker and writer, posed doing a quenelle at the Berlin Holocaust memorial.

Alain Sorel, an anti-Semitic French film­maker and writer, posed doing a quenelle at the Berlin Holo­caust memorial.

Or in front of the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, where Mohamed Merah mur­dered a rabbi and three children.

Judg­ing from the numer­ous arti­cles in the French press, there is no ques­tion that the quenelle is a spread­ing fad.  Less clear is whether those who “slip a quenelle,” as the expres­sion goes, in non-Jewish con­texts under­stand its ori­gin and meaning.

French soc­cer star Mamadou Sakho and TV jour­nal­ist Yann Barthès were pho­tographed mak­ing the ges­ture, but when ques­tioned, said they had no idea of its sig­nif­i­cance.  And the fad­dish ele­ment appears the most likely expla­na­tion when groups are shown giv­ing the salute in a non-Jewish con­text, as with this den­tal clinic.

How­ever, French uni­formed ser­vices have drawn a clear line, regard­less of con­text.  The army pun­ished two sol­diers for “slip­ping a quenelle” in front of a Paris syn­a­gogue in Sep­tem­ber, and yes­ter­day an inves­ti­ga­tion was launched into three fire­fight­ers pho­tographed doing the salute.

While this ges­ture has not yet sur­faced in the U.S., French ath­letes com­pet­ing here, enter­tain­ers per­form­ing here, and oth­ers vis­it­ing from France may bring it to our shores.

 

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