Moments before he was scheduled to perform for 5,000 fans on Thursday, French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala learned his gig – the kickoff to a 22-city national tour – was canceled. After striking down a ban on the show, the highest court in France reversed the decision and prevented what many consider an “anti-Semitic” performance to play out. Riot police was on hand to ensure the crowd dispersed peacefully.
A wildly popular comedian in his country, Dieudonné, 47, has been embroiled in controversy for years. In fact, he’s been convicted seven times for anti-Semitic hate speech and has been accused of denying the Holocaust and disrespecting victims of the Holocaust. The comedian has also popularized a hand-and-arm gesture called the “quenelle,” which detractors describe as an inverted Nazi salute, but Dieudonné says it simply expresses his anti-establishment, anti-Zionist philosophy.The difference between being anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist is ever so slight, but real. An anti-Zionist disagrees with the fundamental state of Israel and its policies while an anti-Semite hates Jews because they’re Jews.
Israeli writer and peace activist Uri Avnery has said this about the difference: “Zionism is a political creed and must be treated like any other. One can be anti-Communist without being anti-Chinese, anti- Capitalist without being anti American,” he says, adding, “Yet, again, it is not always easy to draw the line, because real anti-Semites often pretend just to be ‘anti-Zionists.’”
According to a list of his tour dates, it seems the tour will move along, but with a handful of cancellations. Shows tonight and tomorrow in Tours and Orleans have been canceled. Dates in Nice (Feb. 4), Caen (April 6) and Montbeliard (April 25) have also been canceled. Lawyers representing Dieudonné plan on appealing the court’s decision, claiming the ruling infringes on the comedian’s freedom of speech.