From Toulouse to the quenelle

Haaretz 12/30/13

The aim of professional sports teams is to dominate the sports sections of newspapers while ensuring the antics of their athletes never make the front-page headlines. When soccer player Nicolas Anelka made the “quenelle” gesture over the weekend in celebration of his goal, he did just the opposite: It made everyone ignore the goal, and fixate on the politics of the moment instead. The debate over the controversial salute crossed the Atlantic Ocean on Monday as Tony Parker, a professional French NBA player, was pictured making the quenelle, too, sometime earlier this year.

Anelka maintains that he has done nothing wrong; that he was only showing solidarity with his friend Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, the French, extremist comic who started the gesture. He claims that it is simply a salute against the establishment.

Amid the uproar, Anelka promised his club not to do it again, but showed nothing but pride for doing it the first time. “The club fully acknowledges that Nicolas’ goal celebration has caused offense in some quarters and has asked Nicolas not to perform the gesture again. Nicolas immediately agreed to adhere to this request,” West Brom said in a statement. What an evasive response. West Brom is either carefully avoiding getting involved, or has no idea of why people are upset at all.

Let’s ignore for a second that Anelka thinks its fine to show solidarity with an eight-times convicted anti-Semite and concentrate on the popular “anti-establishment” gesture itself.

The debate around the quenelle is reminiscent of Tariq Ramadan’s comments around Mohammed Merah’s killings of a rabbi and three children in Toulouse in March 2012. Ramadan said Merah was “imbued neither with the values of Islam, or driven by racism and anti-Semitism,” but merely attacking symbols, “the army and Jews.” Shortly after his remarks, I wrote a blog claiming Ramadan and others were airbrushing anti-Semitism out of the attack, dehumanizing the victims to mere symbols of the state.

The airbrushing of anti-Semitism seems to have been revived with the quenelle. Once again, Jews are being dehumanized into the “establishment.” As it is acceptable to be against the establishment, and since Jews are now synonymous with the establishment, it is fine to be against Jews, as they just stand in for the established order of things. What could be wrong with performing the quenelle at Anne Frank’s House, Auschwitz or at the Jewish school in Toulouse itself if it’s just anti-establishment? This is just poking fun at the powers that be. Who cares if the instrument of this fun is a minority group? By making fun of the Holocaust we merely use it as a tool to show how much we dislike “the man” – no offense is meant to the Jewish community itself.

Dieudonne’s attempt to transform anti-Semitism into anti-authority is so clumsy that any fool could see through it. Dieudonne himself cares little for being convicted of racism and chooses to continue upping the ante with Holocaust deniers. Regardless of whether one thinks that limiting hate speech is correct, this man has made the law into such a mockery that France is looking into ways to ban his show entirely.

Anshel Pfeffer is correct in saying that we need to educate rather than legislate against this problem. Banning things just makes them cool, and making this an act of rebellion will only encourage it to spread. But before we turn to solutions to this disease, let us first be sure to diagnose it properly. The virus is anti-Semitism, the origin of this gesture is an anti-Semite and the mask is so poorly constructed that it is a mark of our own public stupidity that we have to have this debate. The quenelle is meant to mainstream and spread anti-Semitism. With that said, let’s get on with educating why that’s not OK.

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