‘Quenelle 4 Ever’ – From ‘Fight the Power’ to an Anti-Semite’s Cry
by Joshua Levitt
‘Fight the Power’ was a hit song for rap group Public Enemy in 1989, when San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker was seven years old.
Lemme hear you say
Fight the power
Lemme hear you say
Fight the power
We’ve got to fight the powers that be
In 2001, when Parker entered the NBA draft, after playing for two years in the French league, Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” was still popular, having been ranked #288 in the “Songs of the Century” list compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written for Spike Lee‘s Oscar-nominated ‘Do the Right Thing’ film of 1989, ‘Fight the Power’ hearkened to the Black Panther Party‘s heyday, a generation earlier, when the African-American civil rights group was founded by Huey Newton in 1966, in Oakland, California, where its Black Power raised fist logo can still be seen tagged on the sides of buildings and used in counter-culture advertisements today.
The raised fist salute was used in the ancient world by goddess Ishtar in Assyria, as a symbol of resistance in the face of violence. In the 2oth century, the raised fist was perhaps used first, in 1917, by Industrial Workers of the World, then by international communists in the 1920s and 1930s, and in the Spanish Civil War, where “it means life and liberty being fought for and a greeting of solidarity with the democratic peoples of the world.” In the 1960s, it was adopted by Students for a Democratic Society.
At the 1968 Summer Olympics, in Mexico City, sprinter and NFL running back Tommie Smith, who won Gold in the 200 meters race in under 20 seconds, gave the raised fist salute on the podium, during the singing of the American national anthem. In his autobiography, ‘Silent Gesture,’ Smith said the salute was not a Black Power salute, but rather a human rights salute, with the protest made in support of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which had compelled the Games to rescind its invitation to apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia for human rights abuses against blacks.
A raised fist, Time Magazine wrote in 2011, is “the universal symbol of solidarity and support,” in reference to how the fist was being adopted by union supporters in Wisconsin who had been protesting the governor’s treatment of their health care plans. Outside of casual use, a disparate 54 formal political groups are known to have used the symbol.
So, when the basketball star said last week that photographs of him performing a modern twist of the raised fist, pointing it down with one hand and bringing the other across the chest as a salute, he could have reasonably thought he was just protesting authority, as French comedian Dieudonné may have even told him, when teaching him the new sign, the ‘quenelle‘ in 2011.
What Dieudonné probably didn’t say was, here’s the French code for saying you hate Jews — Parker apologized publicly when told by the Simon Weisenthal Center what the sign has come to mean.
Dieudonné’s “sleight of hand” ensnared other pop culture icons, including the West Bromwich Albion striker the black Frenchman Nicolas Anelka, who insisted there was nothing wrong in the sign, as it was made in honor of his friend, the black comedian, not about Jews.
The comedian’s joke, surprisingly, grew out of an original on-stage comic routine in the 1990s with his former partner, Élie Semoun, a Moroccan-Jew. Their routine focused on the racism experienced by blacks, Arabs, and those who looked like them, including Moroccan Jews, for example, at the hands of white Parisians, the Power.
A decade later, after several failed political campaigns for local office, Dieudonné, as a stand-up comic, in 2003, “dressed as an Orthodox Jew… strode onto the stage of a popular television show, gave a mock Nazi salute and shouted ‘IsraHeil!'” Robert Zaretsky wrote in the Forward. Showing where his true intentions lay, and acknowledging the quick support of the French Far-Right, Dieudonné befriended their notorious leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who as godfather, presided over the baptism of the comedian’s fourth child.
Dieudonné came up with the quenelle, described lately “as a Nazi salute in reverse,” along with several new words, including Shoannanas – a combination of Shoah, the Hebrew word for the Holocaust, and the French word for pineapple, that were designed to be as offensive as possible to Jews, without actually triggering tough French anti-hate speech laws.
In the case of Shoannanas, he might also be saying Chaud Ananas, hot pineapples, and how could that be offensive? he asks in his routines. As for “the Nazi salute in reverse,” if it’s in reverse it might just mean the opposite thing?
When Jews objected to the Nazi allusions, Dieudonné ignored them. When the French government said he broke French anti-hate speech laws, which prohibit “inciting racism,” he ignored them, too, refusing to pay their citations.
To push the point, Dieudonné made a movie about a comedian being wrongly accused by French Jews as being an anti-Semite because they were offended by their own misunderstanding of his novel gesture. Is the salute anti-Semitic or not, is the joke he asks? But the answer is irrelevant, as the question, itself, is anti-Semitic, singling out Jews for hateful ridicule for no other reason than being Jews. The movie he made to answer the question, ‘The Anti-Semite’ was banned from being screened at Cannes.
Dieudonné’s supporters provide countless answers to the quandary. At the World Zionist Organization’s “Countering Anti-Semitism and Delegitimization of Israel Conference,” in New York last month, hundreds of photographs were shown of the quenelle being performed at Auschwitz, behind the backs of Chabad rabbis and alongside IDF soldiers, testifying to researchers what the significance of the salute, at least, meant to the public. One hacker went so far as to expose supporter email addresses and other identifying information, by hacking the comedian’s webpage, which features links to quenelle photos. The offenders had all signed up for the site’s mailing list.
In France, authorities have pursued Dieudonné to seemingly no avail, last week opening up an eighth case against him for “inciting racism.” After the first seven trials, and €65,000 ($100,000) in unpaid fines, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls on Friday told AFP and Liberation that despite the comedian’s pleas of bankruptcy he would be forced to pay up.
Meanwhile, some have already lost their patience with Dieudonné.
The JTA reported that six men believed to be part of the Ligue de Defense Juive, the French Jewish Defense League, another group that uses the raised fist symbol, were arrested in Lyon, France, for finding and beating two individuals who posted photos online performing the quenelle.
Last Tuesday, Dieudonné reported four death threats made against him on the phone, according to the UK’s Jewish News. On Thursday night, a bomb threat was made against the Theatre de la Main d’Or, where Dieudonné performs, in Paris’ 11th arrondissement, according to MetroNews.fr. Police rushed to the scene but found no explosives. French Interior Minister Valls told France 24 that he could seek to ban all Dieudonné’s public gatherings as a public safety risk.
While international condemnation appears to be isolating Dieudonné, the joke is also on us. Too bad that Dieudonné isn’t just a sad clown and publicity hound, because the media scrutiny of his story has spread knowledge of his however-ambivalent salute around the world, and he’s achieved what he wanted; notoriety.
The sad part is that his notoriety is for being that black French comedian with one joke, about how he’s not an anti-Semite, even though he made a movie called ‘The Anti-Semite;’ how when people take photos performing his secret salute on the Jewish graves of Auschwitz, they’re not anti-Semites; they really just mean ‘Fight the Power,’ not ‘Fight the Jews.’ And how the government sued him eight times and stripped him of €65,000 in fines, then forbade him to perform in public, it all becomes a pretty sad joke trying to make fun of anti-Semitism.
“Quenelle 4 Ever” was spotted last week spray painted on a cement wall built at St James Church, in London, created to protest Israel’s West Bank security barrier, built to stop suicide bombers. In the seven years since its construction, annual Israeli deaths from suicide bombers fell progressively from 60 to zero.
Pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon, who published the “Quenelle 4 Ever” tag identified by Sussex Friends Of Israel, linked it to what he said St James Church really intended by the controversial stunt, which it denied was in any way anti-Semitic or anti-Israel:
“Back at the St James Church site, we see another whopper. ‘This wall is symbolic of walls all over the world that divide and confine peoples, restricting free movement and dominating the imagination of those who live behind them,’ the organizers claimed.”
“Ah, so this wall is not to condemn Israel – they are just using it as a symbol of all other walls!”
“So why choose Israel’s? Well, just like all other people who hate Israel and pretend that they are being morally consistent, ‘one has to start somewhere.‘ For some reason, that somewhere is always with the single Jewish state.”
“Quenelle 4 Ever” and its associated “Nazi salute in reverse” may have, to some people, at one time, back a few years ago, meant something subversive and sly, but affirmative, to end oppression, stand up for civil rights, to ‘Fight the Power,’ as it were. But by now, everyone in the world should know it’s just the sly way of saying, you are ‘The Anti-Semite’ in Dieudonné’s unseen film, the joke is on you.
Guess what? Quenelle means “I hate Jews,” and if you do the salute, it means “you are a Nazi in reverse,” a lone Jew-hater without an army or state to back up your vile threats, just another anti-Semite, uploading pictures of yourself practicing Dieudonné’s salute to double-speak, because you couldn’t think of anything positive to say to humanity.