The Quenelle and Antisemitism: How Do You Stop Hate?

Posted by Adam Strom on January 8, 2014

How do you stop hate? Over the holidays the formally obscure French word "quenelle" was the third most searched term on Google. Previously known as the term for a particular kind of French dumpling, the quenelle is now more widely associated with a hateful gesture popularized by the antisemitic French comedian and sometimes politician Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala. France 24, a 24 hour news network sponsored by the French government, explains:

[T]he term is now also associated with Dieudonné's gesture of pointing one arm downwards while touching the upper arm with the other hand, in what some describe as a Nazi-style salute.

While similar to the French “up yours” gesture, many also see it as overtly anti-Semitic.

On Saturday the quenelle made global headlines after West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka celebrated his second goal against West Ham with a quenelle at a football match in England.

Anelka is not the only one who has been seen doing a quenelle. In fact, it is becoming a sort of hateful meme. A photograph of NBA star Tony Parker surfaced a few days ago of him doing the gesture along with Dieudonné himself. On December 30, CNN reported on Parker’s response:

"While this gesture has been part of French culture for many years, it was not until recently that I learned of the very negative concerns associated with it," he said. "Since I have been made aware of the seriousness of this gesture, I will certainly never repeat the gesture and sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding or harm relating to my actions.

"Hopefully this incident will serve to educate others that we need to be more aware that things that may seem innocuous can actually have a history of hate and hurt."

While Anelka and Parker’s photographs made headlines, France 24 outlines what they call a series of "Holocaust quenelles":

In September, two French soldiers on duty in Paris had their picture taken in front of a synagogue while doing a quenelle.

French National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who famously called the Holocaust a “detail” of the Second World War, has been pictured making the gesture and grinning broadly.

French essayist and film-maker Alain Soral, a friend of Dieudonné who has been accused of anti-Semitism and is a leading thinker of the French far-right, was photographed in front of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin doing a quenelle.

Other pictures circulating on the Internet include members of the public making the gesture at the Auschwitz extermination camp in Poland, and in front of goods wagons that were used to transport Jews to their deaths during the Second World War.

They are not alone. Photographs of people making the quenelle in front of Holocaust imagery and Jewish sites are circulating online.

Several French leaders, including Prime Minister François Hollande, have denounced the quenelle and antisemitism in general. Some French politicians have suggested a law banning the quenelle, several French mayors have either cancelled or banned performances by Dieudonné as a threat to public order. France has laws banning Holocaust denial and displays of Nazi symbols and Dieudonné has six previous convictions of hate speech against Jews.

What would it take to stop the gesture? Would stopping the quenelle reduce antisemitism?

As an educator, I would like to hear what young people think. What do they think can be done? Is this something you would talk about with your students? How does this relate to issues of hate and intolerance in your own community? How would you approach the discussion? I would be interested in your thoughts and comments.

Topics: Antisemitism, Holocaust Education

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Welcome to Facing Today, a Facing History blog. Facing History and Ourselves combats racism and antisemitism by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe.

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