By Henry GRUNWALD, Chairman, National Holocaust Centre, Nottingham.
The British Jewish community used to be rightly critical of the time it took French authorities to react properly to anti-Semitic incidents in France.
However that changed, and they have more recently shown a commendably prompt response to anti-Semitism, particularly in dealing with the infamous Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.
He is a French “comedian” who strongly claims he is anti-establishment and certainly not anti-Semitic. I have no problem with an anti- establishment comedian, but I do have a problem with a comedian who says of Jewish French journalist Patrick Cohen (who allegedly upset him): “When the wind turns, I don’t think he’ll have time to pack a suitcase. When I hear Patrick Cohen talking, you see, I think of gas ovens.”
That is just one of the reasons why the French authorities have taken steps to ban Dieudonné from performing his “comedy” show. Dieudonné is also said to be the originator of the quenelle gesture. I hope they succeed. At home, the Football Association has responsibility for the conduct of English football.
Perhaps they need to take lessons from the French.
In the December match between West Bromwich Albion and West Ham, one of the former’s players, Nicolas Anelka, used the quenelle gesture. A quenelle was until recently only known as the French word for a kneidal, a dumpling. But this quenelle is an inversion of the “Heil Hitler” salute.
I don’t understand why Anelka made the gesture, but he claims he did it to show solidarity with Dieudonné. It is an anti-establishment gesture, not an anti-Semitic one, he says.
Whatever it was meant to be when Dieudonné first did it, the quenelle is now an anti-Semitic gesture.
That’s why people make the gesture on the railway tracks leading to Auschwitz, in front of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, and outside Jewish schools and, in case there was any doubt about the matter, in front of posters of Anne Frank.
Despite what the French authorities are doing to deal with Dieudonné in France, the UK’s FA has as yet done nothing to deal with Anelka. It says it’s looking into the matter.
There really is very little for them to look into. Anelka made an anti-Semitic gesture on the football pitch, and appears, so far, to have got away with it.
On 27 January, the UK will mark Holocaust Memorial Day. The date was chosen because, on 27 January, 1945, the Russian Army liberated Auschwitz and revealed to the world the horrors of where anti-Semitism had led.
I suppose it might be said by Dieudonné or his supporters that the Nazis began as an anti-establishment movement. Each year, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust sets the theme for the way in which the day will be marked in more than 2,000 events up and down the country.
This year’s theme is ‘Journeys’, and we are asking people to reflect on, for example, the journeys made by the victims and survivors of the Shoah, or the journeys made by Kinder to this country on the Kindertransport, or the journeys made by survivors of subsequent genocides, especially this year when we mark the 20th anniversary of what happened in Rwanda in 1984.
The purpose of HMD is not just to remember the Shoah – it reminds us that the lessons of the Holocaust have not been learnt, and that much needs to be done to ensure the words “never again”, which were uttered with such force after the Shoah, actually have some meaning.
There are many journeys in life to be made by us all. There is clearly a long journey to be made, and many lessons to be learnt, by Dieudonné, and by Anelka and, possibly, by the FA.
Nazi salutes, even inverted ones, have no place on the football pitch or elsewhere. We’re told the FA could issue a statement on the matter on 20 January. I do hope they say and do the right thing – before Holocaust Memorial Day.