Look Behind You, Europe: The Quenelle's Odor Is Unmistakable

The new wave of anti-Semitism now surfacing across Europe threatens everything the continent strove for after the last catastrophe.

Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan
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French striker Nicolas Anelka performs the 'quenelle' after scoring a goal.
French striker Nicolas Anelka performs the 'quenelle' after scoring a goal.Credit: AFP
Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan

Slowly but surely, Israelis are becoming aware of one of the most disturbing stories taking place in France these days: A new wave of anti-Semitism that is spreading among the general public, using any verbal or symbolic means in order (once again) to ascribe the ultimate blame for all the world's injustice on the Jews.

There are daily photographs in the press of people making the “quenelle” gesture beside synagogues, Holocaust landmarks and the Toulouse school where Jewish children were murdered. The gesture, in which one arm points diagonally downwards while the other is placed on the opposite shoulder, is a bypass version of the Nazi salute, which is illegal. Soccer player Nicholas Anelka and basketball player Tony Parker are only the most prominent of those photographed recently.

The spiritual father of the “quenelle” is comedian Dieudonne, who demonstrated the hand movement for the first time in 2009, when running at the head of a political slate that described itself as “anti-Zionist.” Dieudonne, who grew up in a Parisian suburb to a Breton mother and a father born in the Cameroons, claimed that the salute is not anti-Jewish but anti-establishment. Since then, he has managed to praise the regime in Iran, to visit Libya in order to express support for Muammar Gadhafi, to justify the 9/11 disaster and to link up with avowed neo-Nazis.

Just as important as Dieudonne, is the audience that comes en masse to see his provocative performances. It is a varied crowd. Most of those who perform the salute with him during the evening are aware of the connection but don’t understand what’s so terrible about it, and believe that talk of sending Jews back to the gas chambers may be “somewhat exaggerated,” but is also quite justified in light of the injustice that the Jews and the Americans are causing oppressed people throughout the world.

The term “Jews” is not synonymous with citizens or human beings, but rather with capital, colonialism, American culture and, of course, Zionism, even if the speakers are unable to explain clearly what exactly this Zionism is that must be destroyed so urgently. This conceptual stew is especially hard on Jews who oppose the policy of occupation and settlement.

The wheel is turning back to the point where Theodor Herzl, in an article he wrote in Paris, deciphered the roots of modern anti-Semitism 140 years ago. Anti-Semitism, he said, doesn’t consider the Jews its political objective. It uses them in its war against the modern order. By defining anti-Semites as members in a kind of “club of the shortchanged,” Herzl – who was impressed by the power of the democracy of the masses but also understood its danger – also managed to point out the roots of European fascism.

These things are still valid. The new anti-Semitism does not originate with the establishment; on the contrary, the establishment is trying desperately to fight it (the French interior minister is considering banning Dieudonne’s performances.) It is social. It is not based on the tension between Jews who identify with Israel and Muslims who identify with the Palestinians (although this tension is thoroughly exploited by Dieudonne and his ilk,) but rather by the sociopolitical conditions that have once again ripened in Europe: the weakening of the welfare state, large-scale immigration and the neo-liberal philosophy of the economic leadership have cracked the thin shell. The economic crisis and unemployment are raising the level of fear and hatred, and anti-Semitism is rising to the surface.

Jew hatred is not, therefore, a “Jewish” issue. It threatens democracy, freedom, equality and fraternity. In effect, everything that Europe wanted to be after the last catastrophe. Be careful, Europe; behind you the past is breathing on the future.

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