Though Dieudonné might claim to represent Palestinian interests, six convictions for inciting racial hatred do not inspire confidence. References to the Holocaust as "memorial porn", high praise for former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a goose-stepping caricature of the Israeli Defence Force reveal a comedian more concerned with controversy than conciliation. His ‘joke’ about opening the gas chambers for Radio France journalist Patrick Cohen found a happy, laughing crowd. Dieudonné maintains the 'joke' was an aside, taken out of context context and paraded as anti-Semitism. A fresh indictment is underway while French Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls attempts to ban him from performing.
Having invited Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson on stage and describing the Shoah as 'before his time', comparisons between Dieudonné and Nazism aren't as facile as they appear. The comedian resents the Jewish ‘monopoly’ on collective grief and guilt, which he feels blinds the world to the plight of Africa, both past and present. The media has been quick to brand the quenelle an 'inverted Nazi salute', and however innocent its inception, there is no doubt the gesture has taken on anti-Semitic significance. Photographs have emerged of the salute being performed outside the Ozar Hatorah school, the scene of the 2012 Toulouse shootings, as well as Auschwitz. Premier League footballer Nicolas Anelka celebrated with the gesture at West Ham's Upton Park, which was once the focal point of Jewish East London. Huffing the oxygen of publicity, the salute's popularity grows by the day.
Despite this, Dieudonné remains popular in his native France. His theatre, La Main d'Or, is regularly booked-out, his YouTube channel boasts two hundred thousand subscribers, and his celebrity friends include basketball star Tony Parker. With the Front National's anti-Semitism sidelined by crowd-pleasing Islamophobia, Dieudonné has exploited right-wing resentment towards the state of Israel. Although Dieudonné fought against Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 1997 elections, in 2008 he made the former Front National leader the godfather of his daughter. While anti-Zionism is not necessarily anti-Semitism, Dieudonné has surpassed legitimate criticism of illegal settlements, instead characterising the Jewish people as misguided, untrustworthy, and brutal.
Characteristically brash, on 31 December, Dieudonné claimed that 2014 will be the 'year of the quenelle'. With a storm of coverage on both sides of the Channel, he may well be correct.