For Bastille Day, Examining French Comedian Dieudonné’s Nonstop Crusade Against Israel and America
French comedian Dieudonné is an avowed antisemite and anti-Zionist. Yet until recently, many in France across the political spectrum have laughed with him for depicting Israelis as Nazis, embracing Holocaust deniers, and extolling the Iranian regime. He invented an inverted Hitler salute — “the quenelle” — extremely popular among soccer fans and on the internet. He has also cheered on terrorist attacks in Israel, Europe and the US.
Dieudonné’s popularity reflects the potency in France of Jew-hatred — and hatred of America — especially among Arab immigrants and their children.
France and the US have been “frenemies” since the 18th century. Louis XVI’s diplomatic and military support was vital to Americans winning their independence. Yet French Enlightenment scientists looked down on America. America’s repressive Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were aimed at French immigrants. In the 1830s, French observer Alexis de Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America, warning Europe against importing the US’ “tyranny of the majority.”
Notwithstanding the French gift of the Statue of Liberty and our two nations fighting side-by-side in World War I, the French after that war coined the term “anti-American” to rally their country against the dangerous influence of Henry Ford’s assembly line, Hollywood movies and jazz music, and the American “melting pot.” During the 1930s, influential trans-Atlantic critic André Siegfried wrote that that “crypto-Communists and spies” had “crept in” among refugees from Hitler to the US, making “the Jewish Problem acute.”
Then, after World War II, the French waged a cultural resistance movement against Coca Cola and McDonald’s. They feared that “the American language” and “American globalization” were corrupting French culture.
Yet, post-1945, French intellectuals — especially on the left — deplored antisemitism and supported Israel. This began to change with President De Gaulle’s tilt toward the Arabs in the 1967 war. Then came the great explosion in both anti-Americanism and antisemitism after the 9/11 attacks and 2003’s Iraq War, which was often blamed on Israel and Jews.
This is the context in which Dieudonné mocked the 2006 murder of French Jew Ilan Halimi, kidnapped and tortured by a Muslim gang. He went to Tehran to promote a film claiming Jewish “domination” of the slave trade, and embraced the cause of the attacker on the Paris kosher market in 2015. He paid a friendly visit to nuclear North Korea, and also marched in Paris with antisemitic “Yellow Vest” demonstrators.
Government crackdowns on Dieudonné amounted to “slaps on the wrist.” Only recently was he given a two-year sentence for tax evasion — but not hate crimes.
As the antisemitic wave in France crested, President Emmanuel Macron stood up and promised to adopt the definition of antisemitism drafted by Europe’s IHRA. But in May 2019, his proposal was tabled. French hatred of Jews and Israel, as well as America, is no laughing matter.