Headlines in France have focused for several weeks on home secretary Manuel Valls’s efforts at banning antisemitic comedian Dieudonné.
Dieudonné is the inventor of the “quenelle” gesture.
Thousands of people posing on social media have used it—along with West Brom footballer Nicolas Anelka, who now faces investigation from the Football Association.
Supporters claim the quenelle is an anti-establishment gesture.
But members of fascist groups have repeatedly used it in front of Jewish targets such as synagogues and Holocaust memorials.
Dieudonné calls himself an anti-Zionist. But his shows include constant banter against Jews and many disgusting jokes about the Holocaust.
Organisations that do solidarity work with Palestine have criticised him and explained how genuine opposition to Zionism has nothing to do with antisemitism.
But the government’s attempts to ban him don’t come from any genuine will to fight racism. Valls himself has actively fuelled racism against Roma people and Muslims.
Dieudonné has presented an unfamiliar challenge for anti-fascists. For most people he is a black comedian who denounces “the system” and says he stands for the rights of Palestinians.
So anti-fascists have focused on spreading information about Dieudonné’s links to the far right.
His strange career started in the 1990s with fellow comedian Elie Semoun who comes from a Jewish background. They talked about the prejudices they would encounter in French society and in each other’s communities.
Dieudonné started his political career in 1997 on a platform opposing the fascist Front National (FN), and he was considered a fellow traveller of the far left.
He criticised the double standards in anti-racism in the establishment, where antisemitism was seen as more worthy of attention than Islamophobia and anti-black racism. This developed into a dismissal of antisemitism.
By the early 2000s Dieudonné was becoming overtly antisemitic.
He came under the influence of far right conspiracy theorist Alain Soral. His passing over to the other side became undeniable when he befriended then FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who even became godfather to his daughter.
He invited Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson on stage and recently made friends with a Nazi skinhead leader linked to the murderer of anti-fascist Clement Meric.
But the confusion around Dieudonné, and Valls’ obvious double standards, have ensured considerable controversy over the banning of Dieudonné’s shows.
This is exactly what Valls intended.
His offensive came just at the moment long-awaited statistics showed unemployment continued to rise, contrary to the government's promises.
Valls was also trying to paint himself as an anti-racist after the autumn demonstrations against his deportation of school students Leonarda and Khatchik.
Both are still denied the right to return to France.
This can only work short term, if at all. Valls was filmed over the past week being booed in Britanny, and furious at being admonished in working class Aulnay.
A resident told him, “The real problem of French people is more serious than a so-called quenelle problem, or visiting a supposedly unsafe neighbourhood. What we elected you for is mainly employment. That’s the real problem.”