The Quenelle: Fascist or Fad?

  • by:
    • Mark Onofrio
  • December 18, 2013

What is the “quenelle”?  In addition to being sort of a French version of gefilte fish, is it also a modern ‘Nazi salute’ sweeping Europe?  Context matters.

“An anti-Semitic gesture for some, an anti-establishment symbol for others, the meaning of the ‘quenelle’ is still vague.”  So reports French newspaper Le Figaro in a story on Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, a French comedian and “professional anti-Semite” in the words of Roger Cukierman, President of the French Jewish representative organization, CRIF.  ADL has condemned Dieudonne’s anti-Semitism on many occasions, most recently for his participation in an Iranian anti-Semitic conference on “Hollywoodism” and for his anti-Semitic political activity.

Dieudonne was dragged back to a French court this week for failing to pay an earlier fine levied on him for anti-Semitic remarks.  In the previous incident, Dieudonne had called Jews “the world’s biggest crooks,” mocked the Holocaust, and called for the release of Youssouf Fofana, whose Gang of Barbarians had kidnapped, tortured, and murdered Ilan Halimi in 2006.

Even French President François Hollande yesterday referred indirectly – but clearly – to Dieudonne, condemning “those who claim to be comedians but are just plain anti-Semites.”

Dieudonne is thought to have invented the “quenelle,” a salute with one arm down and the other bent at the elbow with an open hand on the opposite shoulder, in 2009 as part of the electoral campaign of his Anti-Zionist Party.

When done in a Jewish context, anti-Semitic intent is obvious.

Alain Sorel, an anti-Semitic French filmmaker and writer, posed doing a quenelle at the Berlin Holocaust memorial.

Alain Sorel, an anti-Semitic French filmmaker and writer, posed doing a quenelle at the Berlin Holocaust memorial.

Or in front of the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, where Mohamed Merah murdered a rabbi and three children.

Judging from the numerous articles in the French press, there is no question that the quenelle is a spreading fad.  Less clear is whether those who “slip a quenelle,” as the expression goes, in non-Jewish contexts understand its origin and meaning.

French soccer star Mamadou Sakho and TV journalist Yann Barthès were photographed making the gesture, but when questioned, said they had no idea of its significance.  And the faddish element appears the most likely explanation when groups are shown giving the salute in a non-Jewish context, as with this dental clinic.

However, French uniformed services have drawn a clear line, regardless of context.  The army punished two soldiers for “slipping a quenelle” in front of a Paris synagogue in September, and yesterday an investigation was launched into three firefighters photographed doing the salute.

While this gesture has not yet surfaced in the U.S., French athletes competing here, entertainers performing here, and others visiting from France may bring it to our shores.