More on Dieudonne and the radical French left
Most of all, however, Dieudonné has come to symbolise - and some say foment - the rise of a "new anti-Semitism" among Arab and black youths and on the "white" far left. Race was not a direct issue in the suburban riots which shook France last autumn. The young, black, brown and some white kids who belong to suburban youth gangs are not racist among themselves. There is one huge exception, however. They have a gut hatred of the "feujs" (backward slang for juifs or Jews). This anti-Semitism, often based on lurid fantasies of Jewish wealth and power, was not invented by Dieudonné. It began with the sympathy of young people of Arab origin for Palestinian kids throwing stones at Israeli troops. Dieudonné stands accused, however, of making this new anti-Semitism of the French under classes - and increasingly of the French far left - more respectable and spreading it to French people of African or West Indian origin. Mr Dray is the official spokesman of France's main opposition, Socialist party and a founder of SOS-Racisme (an organisation once supported by Dieudonné, now dismissed by him as a "Zionist" front). M. Dray said: "[Ilan Halimi's] murder must be seen against the background of the social climate in France. Dieudonné is not responsible for his death but he shares the blame for the rise in anti-Semitism [in the suburbs]." Youssouf Fofana, the alleged leader of the kidnap gang which abducted, tortured and murdered M. Halimi (a mobile phone salesman from a modest background), explained his choice of victim to his fellow gang-members in starkly racial terms. According to statements to police, he said: "The Jews are kings, because they eat up all the state's money, but I'm black and treated by the state like a slave." This is a garbled version of the "Jews rule-black suffer" message popularised in the suburbs by Dieudonné in the past two or three years. Off-stage, or off his political soap-box, Dieudonné is a gentle, soft-spoken man. He was so loved by showbusiness friends - including his original double-act partner, the Jewish comedian, Elie Semoun - that they defended his initial lurches towards anti-Semitism. A comedian had the right to satirise even the most sacred of taboos, they said. As Dieudonné plunged further into politics, and outright Jew-baiting, his entertainment friends dropped him one by one. In an interview with The Independent, the comedian-politician rejected suggestions that he was anti-Semitic. "I am anti-Zionist and I oppose the power of the Zionist lobby in France," he said. "France is meant to be a secular Republic which treats all races equally but the power of Zionism has perverted that. "I remain as profoundly anti-racist as I ever was. It is the Jews, or Zionists, who have created racism by forming such an effective lobby for one ethnic group and for the state of Israel, which illegally occupies the land of another people. "The Holocaust was a terrible, appalling thing but there has been other suffering in history and there is other suffering today in a world cursed by the power of money. The Zionists have perverted the values of the Republic so that only the suffering of the Jews is recognised officially, not, for instance, the suffering of blacks through the slave trade." Dieudonné proceeds by the kind of nudge-nudge, coded provocation that has long been the stock in trade of the anti-Semitic far right in France. He had been prosecuted 17 times for inciting racial hatred, or denying the Holocaust, but had won every case before his recent condemnation. If you put a few of his comments together, however, the Dieudonné message becomes pretty clear. On Beur FM, a radio station directed at young people of North African origin, he said in March last year: "In my children's school books, I ripped out the pages on the Shoah. I will continue to do so as long as our pain is not recognised." In December 2003, he appeared on a French chat and comedy show dressed as an Israeli West Bank colonist and ended his skit with a Nazi salute and shouted: "Israel-heil". In his statement announcing his intention to run for the presidency, he launched an attack on the French Jewish association CRIF (Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France). It was, he said, a "Zionist organisation of the extreme right that gathers all our leaders at the beginning of the year to share with them a roadmap or an agenda for the year ahead".