This is a translated article by Marine Turchi from the investigative website, MediaPart. I am grateful to Tristan Jean for the translation.
[Translator's note: Some familiarity with Dieudonné will help clarify the context of this article. Of mixed French and Cameroonian origins, Dieudonné M'bala M'bala (who uses only his first name professionally) originally rose to fame in the 1990s as one half of a comedy duo with Élie Semoun, a French Jewish comic with whom he traded racial barbs in a type of ethnic stereotype-based humor which more than one American commentator has compared to Lenny Bruce. Although associated with leftist politics in the 1990s, Dieudonné veered sharply rightward in the early 2000s after his professional break with Semoun. He has propagated anti-semitic conspiracy theories, starred in numerous anti-semitic stage shows, made a film called "The Anti-Semite," befriended the Le Pen family of the National Front and the Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, and has been convicted of inciting racial hatred nine times. He has also created a crypto-fascist gesture known as the quenelle which bears similarity to an inverted Nazi salute and has become something of a viral phenomenon among French youth, with French NBA star Tony Parker, for one, having to apologize for making the gesture a few years ago. Those who seek information on him in English are directed to Alexander Stille's profile of him in the New Yorker issue from January 10 of this year and Tom Reiss's profile of him in the same magazine in November, 2007. For more information on the quenelle, consult its Wikipedia entry.]
Every movement has its marginal members who try to exploit the cameras and public events. After recent incidents involving the Jewish Defense League (La Ligue de défense juive), the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France took care to specify that the former group is "a small organization, not a member of Jewish institutions". The very eclectic pro-Palestinian movement, meanwhile, has had to deal with its own share of attempted infiltrations, notably by followers of Dieudonné and the extreme right-wing essayist Alain Soral.
Although these infiltrators from the extreme right are very much in the minority at pro-Palestinian events, the protest on Saturday, July 26, organized in solidarity with the people of Gaza, was fraught with strong internal tensions. Part of the procession seemed to have been overrun with radical elements. Some of these protesters from the extreme right have united in a small cell known as "Gaza Firm." They are unrelated to traditional pro-Palestinian groups and come to protests primarily to fight in the streets with the Jewish Defense League. But who pulls the strings of this operation?
[Translation of tweet from the "Ligue de Défense Goys Lyon" (Goy Defense League of Lyon): "They want to discredit GAZAFIRM, the collective supported by the Goy Defense League and Wanted Pédo [a fringe anti-pedophilia group with ties to the extreme right]. While the Jewish Defense League incites hatred and violence at protests, GAZAFIRM defuses tension and sets boundaries - the proof is below. The media wants to make us believe that [Olivier] Besancenot [of the New Anti-Capitalist Party] has a monopoly on fighting for Palestine in order to bring everything back to politicians and make us forget that all these protests, and GAZAFIRM itself, are citizen initiatives. Don't let them silence the will of the people! Spread this around, share it, unite!"]
It was after the incidents of the Rue de la Roquette on July 13 and the wide media coverage of the protests that the group discovered a successful communications strategy. For although the name "Gaza Firm" made its debut recently, the group itself first appeared in January, during the "Day of Wrath", when cells of the most radical branch of the extreme right, including followers of Dieudonné, protested in Paris with anti-semitic and homophobic slogans.
Officially the group presents itself, in a press release from July 25, as "a group of friends with diverse backgrounds (...), cultures and religions (...), blacks, whites, and Arabs (...) united around the Palestinian cause," with their stated goal being to "guarantee the security of protesters and citizens," and above all to "present a united front" to radical Jewish organizations such as the Jewish Defense League and the Betar.
[Translation of tweets: "#GazaFirm - Because of our background, because of our humanity, we are eternally linked to Palestine! Palestine never surrender [sic]!"
"#GazaFirm - Our sole objective is to safeguard the pro-Palestinian protests against Nazi Zionists!"
"#GazaFirm - To those who accuse us of only being soccer guys--you don't know us, so don't judge us!"]
Alain Soral's movement "Égalité et réconciliation" (Equality and Reconciliation) rushed to express its support for the new movement, asking if there was "finally a Goy Defense League?" The members of Gaza Firm, meanwhile, claim to have "no link [with] the extreme right (...), Dieudonné, or even Alain Soral."
Nonetheless, an ally of Soral is behind this new group: Mathias Cardet. This spokesman for Gaza Firm has organized several conferences with Soral, who is also his editor and a regular contributor to his website. Cardet explains further in this video that he "feels a bond of friendship" with Gaza Firm. He has also joined in Égalité et réconciliation's abundant calls for a "day-long school boycott to support the banning of gender theory" in schools this winter. On June 21, he was also present at "the Quenelles' Ball" organized by Dieudonné where the notorious Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson was also present.
Although Cardet has declared, in a "clarification" on Facebook, that he is not "the boss of Gaza Firm," he nonetheless "takes responsibility for the team's actions" and was at their side, along with people close to him, at the July 26 protest (click here for photographic proof). After the July 19 protest he posted a video of the group in action.
Who are the militants of Gaza Firm? Essentially, they are extreme fans (ultras) of the Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) soccer club, former members of the "K-soce team" associated with the Auteuil and Karsud factions of fans, with ties to the radical fringe associated with the Boulogne bleachers. Besides, according to an expert in this milieu, the reference to the culture of soccer fans is transparent, "since the word 'firm' in this context is a codeword among extreme soccer hooligans which brings to mind the Inter City Firm," the first group of English soccer hooligans.
According to this expert, it is "a depoliticized milieu, composed of youths from the suburban ghetto (banlieues), some of whom are receptive to Dieudonné and Soral's anti-system message. Their opinions are shaped by Dieudonné and Soral's videos which spread conspiracy theories attacking Americans, Jews, Freemasons, and the mainstream media in general while asserting that the truth is available on the internet. It's more of an informal movement than an organized group. Dieudonné and Soral don't control them, but those two can see their influence in Gaza Firm's actions."
Dieudonné and Soral's Attempts to Exploit the Situation
However, Gaza Firm is not solely composed of followers of Soral; the situation is more complex. Again according to our informant, "some are guys from the hip-hop scene which has sprung up around Mathias Cardet, others are lost souls who follow a friend or two, perform some quenelles and some bras d'honneurs in the protests, and get into fights with the Jewish Defense League. It's above all a group phenomenon" in which the composition of the groups can change according to "soccer issues."
After our article on the Jewish Defense League, Quartiers libres, a collective of militants from the radical left of Parisian ghettos (banlieues), wrote to us, stunned to read that the pro-Palestinian protests were "overwhelmed with partisans of Dieudonné and Soral." The group insists that the presence of Soral's followers in the gatherings was minimal and only represented "about thirty people" who tried "to spin things in their favor by talking to the media about their trip to Barbès" after missing "the fight against the Jewish Defense League." For more information, read Quartiers libres' blog post entitled "The Real Useful Idiots of Zionism".
Without necessarily always appearing at these protests, Dieudonné and Soral nevertheless try to exploit them, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general, to their advantage. On the afternoon of Saturday, July 26, a "Conference on Palestine", at which Dieudonné appeared was held at the Théâtre de la Main d'or. Tickets for the event were 5 euros, and the line to get in the theater stretched for 200 meters outside the venue. The audience was eclectic but leaned young. Pierre Panet, a close friend of Dieudonné who is associated with Holocaust denial circles and was a National Front candidate for municipal elections, entertained the crowd while they waited, and the whole affair was covered by Dieudonné's web site, Meta-TV. Spectators inside the hall, filled well past its 250-person capacity, however, were forbidden from taking photos and video footage. As one audience member familiar with Dieudonné's shows put it, "they want to be able to broadcast their images themselves, with their own TV set-up."
Onstage, the former Belgian deputy of the extreme right, Laurent Louis, who has expressed support for the Holocaust denial claims of Robert Faurisson, acted as a moderator. Seated beside him were Marion Sigaut, who claims to be a "historian" trained by the organization Debout la République (Stand Up, Republic) and is now a member of Égalité et réconciliation, and Jacob Cohen, a Jewish writer and pro-Palestinian activist. Posters for the event advertised "first-hand accounts by Palestinians" but the organizers only read a letter by a doctor from Shifa that had already been widely circulated on social media platforms.
The audience members were only really there to hear Dieudonné, who arrived wearing an orange Guantanamo Bay prison jumpsuit with the word quenelle written on it. After a round of applause and cries of "Dieudonné for president!", he complained that "the suffering of the Holocaust is always trotted out" and explained that "the rise of anti-semitism was invented by the system, for the system is Zionist."
For two hours, the speakers talked about "Zionist marketing" allegedly propagated all day by the media; the organizers congratulated themselves on closing their doors to the camera crews of the television station France 2. "The state of Israel isn't pursuing Nazi policies, but something worse!" claimed Laurent Louis, before adding that "even Hitler didn't bomb hospitals." He also expressed his doubts about the official account of the recent massacre at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, and defended his obsession with Zionism, saying "people ask me why I talk about Palestine when they want to talk about unemployment, but everything is connected! If there's an economic crisis, it's because of the banks, and the banks are Zionist!"
Audience members were told, "the person we've been waiting for is you!" The question and answer session at the end of the conference was chaotic, with a wide variety of rambling questions and statements, altercations between some sections of the audience, and fights for access to the microphone. Ginette Hess-Skandrani, who was expelled from the Green Party for her association with Holocaust deniers and became Dieudonné's running-mate in 2009 on the “Anti-Zionist List”, spoke of the cold shoulder given to her group by the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (New Anti-Capitalist Party) during the last protests. One audience member wanted to know "how to be a foster parent for a Palestinian child without being politically co-opted." Another wondered aloud about "Russia and China's position in all this." A young man asked for clarification about the history of Palestinian territories. Some debated the necessity of resorting to violence. Others proffered incomprehensible theories or used the opportunity to gain exposure for causes which were sometimes unrelated to Gaza. But the meat of the discussion concerned the use of the term "anti-semite," a label refused by both the audience and Dieudonné, who decried "being blackmailed by the label 'anti-semite'".
Despite this conference, though, Dieudonné and Soral have rarely appeared at pro-Palestinian protests. In January 2009, when Soral tried to rally a pro-Palestinian protest group, his friends from the Anti-Zionist Party (with whom he ran for the European Parliament in 2009) were pushed back by the anti-fascists, preventing his participation in the protest march (see the anti-fascist website "Reflexes" for an account).
At the time, Soral nonetheless released a video and a press release to publicize his participation in the protest "despite the Zionists of the [anarcho-syndicalist] National Confederation of Labour and the Revolutionary Communist League [LCR]." He claimed that "the immense majority of protesters view the presence of anti-Zionist patriots by their side favorably." Five years later, his website continues to rack up visits and he now charges money for access to his videos.
Translated by Tristan Jean