Jewish Artist Apologizes for ‘Thoughtless Act’ Following Outrage Over Antisemitic Graffiti on Jewish-Owned Stores in Marseille
Update, November 27: Since this report based on French media sources was published, the French newspaper La Provence has reported that the graffiti was sprayed by a local Jewish artist, identified as “Ilan,” who signs himself as “Juif.” A representative of the Marseille police revealed that Ilan had identified himself as responsible for the graffiti after reading newspaper articles about the outrage his artwork had caused, and that he now regretted his “thoughtless act.” “Ilan” is expected to be fined by a local court for having committed a criminal act.
A spate of antisemitic graffiti in Marseille over the last week has been linked by a councillor in the French port city to a recent performance of the controversial antisemitic comedian, Dieudonné Mbala Mbala.
Dieudonné performed his one-man show La Guerre (“The War”) in Marseille on November 19. “We had Dieudonné before 8,000 cheering fans,” Laurent Lhardit, a Marseille councillor from the Socialist Party who serves a district with a large Jewish community, told local media. “And we had the word ‘Jew’ sprayed on the storefronts of several businesses.”
The French-Cameroonian comedian has established a reputation for targeting French Jews over more than a decade, and has been fined several thousand Euros by courts in France and Belgium, most recently in January 2017, for his continual stream of antisemitic comments. He has denounced the Holocaust as “memorial pornography” and is the originator of the “quenelle” – an inverted Nazi salute that briefly became a viral social media phenomenon in 2013. Among Dieudonné’s closest collaborators is Alain Soral, a white far-right activist with ties to neo-Nazi circles. In September, the two men travelled to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, to perform in a “peace festival” honoring Kim Jong Un’s regime.
A review of Dieudonné’s performance in Marseille in the French newspaper Le Monde noted that the comedian had spent much of the time denouncing the country’s “elites,” reserving particular venom for current President Emmanuel Macron and the influential Jewish economist Jacques Attali. The paper remarked with alarm that Dieudonné was performing to sell-out crowds in other French cities as well.
Attacking “elites” has become a favored tactic in French extremist circles. On Tuesday, a prominent French labor leader was expelled from the Socialist Party for tweeting an image on the same conspiratorial theme, taken from Soral’s website, which showed Macron, Attali and two other leading French Jews flanked by the American and Israeli flags with the slogan “Forward to Chaos!”
The graffiti onslaught of the last week, which involved spraying the word “Juif” (“Jew”) on storefronts, was compared by Jewish leaders in Marseille to the antisemitic atmosphere of the 1930s. “I’ve never seen anything like that in Marseille,” Bruno Benjamin – president of Jewish representative organization CRIF in the Marseille region – told France Soir. “The graffiti is reminiscent of our darkest hours, taking us back eighty years.” David Assedou, the head of a synagogue in the affected area, told the same paper there was no doubt that “the stores and storefronts that were chosen belong to people in our community.”
An op-ed for a leading Marseille news site by Socialist party councillor Lhardit and his colleague Hagay Sobol angrily denounced those who attended Dieudonné’s show.
“Yes, 8,000 people confused freedom of expression with the spread of hatred,” they wrote. “Shame on those sad citizens.”
Earlier this month, new statistics released by Jewish communal defense organization SPCJ revealed that while Jews make up less than 1 percent of France’s population, they are the victims of 30 percent of hate crimes committed in the country.