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Did a French Comedian Inspire the Killings at the Jewish Museum in Brussels?

Links between Dieudonné, the Belgian anti-Semite Laurent Louis, and Iran show how anti-Semitism is spreading in Europe

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Immediately after an unknown killer walked into the Jewish museum in Brussels and gunned down four people, the president of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, Joël Rubinfeld, made the following statement: What just happened was foreseeable. It was bound to happen. For the past few years, we witnessed a liberation of anti-Semitic words. It grows up again, most notably through the speeches of both the comedian Dieudonné and the representative Laurent Louis.”

Three hours later, Laurent Louis answered with a very long statement whose rhetoric calls to mind the Nazi answer after the Reichstag burning. He said in substance that blaming him or Dieudonné for the massacre was “too easy.” He had nothing to do with this “fool deed”—“fool” as in not anti-Semitically motivated—and implied that those responsible were to be found among his fiercest enemies, secret organizations who were trying to weaken his party “Stand up Belges!” on the eve of the European elections—the implication, obvious to those familiar with Louis’ national crusade against Israel, being that the Jewish state itself was behind the museum massacre. (Despite the length of his declaration, Louis had not a word for the victims.)

Bu then what was Rubinfeld alluding to? What is the connection between Louis and Dieudonné M’Bala M’bala, the notorious anti-Semitic French comedian? in 2013, Louis briefly enrolled in Parti Islam, a small organization with apparent links to Iran. Dieudonné, on the other hand, is involved in the “anti Zionist party,” which is led by Yahia Gouasmi, a French Shiite imam of Algerian background who claims to have met Khomeini in 1978 during his exile in France. The author Alain Soral has publicly admitted that the “anti-Zionist party,” of which he is a member, had received 3 million euros from Tehran, in order to finance the party’s electoral campaign in the 2009 European parliamentary elections; although the number shrank to 300,000 euros in a second statement that Soral was forced to make, he has never denied receiving large sums of money from Iran.

Meanwhile, in Belgium, according to the newspaper La Libre Belgique, information about Louis had been passed on to the police regarding money-laundering in connection with Iranian-based terrorist organizations—an indication that Louis may also be receiving funding from paymasters in Tehran.

***

Dieudonné M’Bala M’bala was born in France in 1966, the son of a Cameroonian accountant father and a white sociologist mother from Bretagne (Brittany). (This last detail may be important, for someone who would later become so obsessed with falsely accusing the Jews of having had a monopoly on the slave trade three centuries ago. Since Bretagne was one of the main regions for departing slave ships, there’s a high enough chance that his mother’s ancestors were slave merchants.) Although he went to a Catholic private school, Dieudonné, according to his own statements, grew up in a politically left-oriented environment. He started to write comic numbers while doing scut work to survive.

Eventually he married, had four children, divorced, and in the early 2000s met Noémie Montaigne, the enigmatic woman who is now also his producer and who is said to have had the deepest influence on his thought. In 2003, he appeared on a TV show called You Can’t Please Everybody disguised as a rabbi and gave a Nazi salute (nobody reacted on the show except to laugh at the joke) and, boosted by the general atmosphere of the country after Sept. 11, went from being a comedian touring with Elie Seimoun, a Sephardic Jew, to becoming an eructing clown preaching hatred, who would be convicted seven times in court of making anti-Semitic statements. For the past 14 years, Dieudonné has been attacking Jewish personalities in his show, inviting figures like the dean of Holocaust denial Robert Faurisson on stage, and confessing his friendship with Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the National Front, the right-wing party that came in first in last week’s elections in France for the European Parliament.

But his great public moment in France came last year, precisely at the time when Laurent Louis was falling for him.

Laurent Louis is 34 years old, born in the Walloon town of Nivelles, Belgium. He displays on TV a round, jovial, childish face, perpetually laughing. After three years as a member of the center-right Mouvement Réformateur—where he left a reputation of being “incoherent and unstable,” in the words of people who know, according to Le Soir—he joined in 2010 the then-new Parti Populaire and, although totally unknown, ended up député of the PP the same year, thanks to a technical maneuver. Six months later, he was expelled from the PP for harassment against an attaché. Since then, his appearances at the Belgian House of Representatives as deputy leader of the Movement for Freedom and Democracy, an extreme-right party of his own invention, have been marked by what observers have described as paranoia, incoherence, and childishness. He has made lists of alleged pedophiles and accused “the gypsies” and “the banks” of trying to destroy, alternately, Belgium or himself—claims that led the president of the chamber, André Flahaut, to describe him as “an accident in the democratic process.”

It was Dieudonné who made Louis a national figure in Belgium. How the two men met is unclear, but in September 2013 Louis briefly joined the Parti Islam, a political organization led by Redouane Ahrouch, a Shiite imam. By 2013, Louis had found his way: The Jews became his public obsession. During a demonstration in front of the Israeli embassy in Brussels, he trampled on the Israeli flag while carrying a Hezbollah flag; he wrote on his Facebook page that “the Zionists financed Hitler”; he asked his representative colleagues to remember how “the Zionists have implemented the Shoah.” It was also in 2013 that Louis started to quote Dieudonné in his public speeches and used the House of Representatives to perform the “Quenelle”—an “anti-establishment” move invented by Dieudonné that looks half like Nazi salute, half like a “fuck you” gesture. It was also the year when Louis declared himself the “Belgian ambassador” to Dieudonné.

This spring, Louis scheduled for May 4 a “gathering of dissidents” near Brussels. Although the official theme was “freedom of speech,” a list of the (all French) guests stars left no mistake about the broad topic: Kémi Séba, a young racialist black man advocating for the liberation of Youssouf Fofana—condemned to a life sentence for the abduction and killing of a young French Jew in 2004; the writer Alain Soral, Dieudonné’s maître à penser, who presents himself as a “national socialist”; and, of course, Dieudonné himself. The authorities banned the rally, and a protest demonstration ensued, where the all-male crowd threw up quenelle gestures and had to be dispersed by water cannons.

Three weeks later, the Jewish museum massacre occurred in Brussels.

***

The year where Louis was seeing his true vocation is also the year where, in France,  Dieudonné achieved a national fame as a hatred orator—a goal he could not have achieved without the help of the french media. On March 12, 2013, two journalists clashed live on the set of a French TV show called C’est à Vous. One was Patrick Cohen, a public-radio host, and the other was Frédéric Taddeï, star of the “cultural” talk show Ce soir ou jamais, which for years has replaced the famous Apostrophe on the national public TV France2. Cohen launched the attack: He accused Taddeï of inviting and being complacent toward some personalities he called “sick brains.” In addition to the Muslim intellectual Tariq Ramadan, the “sick brains” listed by Cohen were Alain Soral, Dieudonné, and Marc-Édouard Nabe, an obscure writer whose most successful book, published in 2002, was a tribute to Osama Bin Laden and whom Taddeï had invited repeatedly to appear on his show. By doing so, said Cohen, Taddeï was actually helping to spread the poisonous ideas of his guests—and, since his show was broadcast on public TV, he was doing so with taxpayers’ money. Taddeï answered that precisely because he was working for the public, he thought his duty was to be open to every mode of thought not condemned by law, regardless of his own personal sympathies. “Of course,” he added, “if I were on Fox News I probably would think the way you do and favor people I agree with. But I’m not.”

Taddeï presented himself as a free spirit and Cohen as his would-be censor. But there was much he left out of the story. As it turns out, the writer Marc-Édouard Nabe was, in fact, the godfather of one of Taddeï’s children, a detail he omitted to report. Later, in a subsequent show, as he was asked why he never gave the history of his guests so the audience could place them in their context and know who they were listening to, he answered that doing so would have been “subjective.”

Five days later, Daniel Schneidermann, an op-ed journalist in the left-wing newspaper Libération, furthered the fight in his weekly column: “Well, then, it is said. There is a blacklist of guests on France Inter.” The title of the piece was “Patrick Cohen’s list.” Ramadan, Soral, Dieudonné, and Nabe, the four banished outlaws,” wrote Schneidermann, had only one obvious point in common: They were saying “disagreeable things about the Jews, Israël, or Zionism.” Schneidermann didn’t bother to explain what those “disagreeable things” were. Although Soral had defined himself as a “national socialist,” literally rewrote The Protocols of the Elders of Zion the year prior, and was posting obscene anti-Semitic videos on his site, Schneidermann described him as nothing but “an unclassifiable publicist.”

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Did a French Comedian Inspire the Killings at the Jewish Museum in Brussels?

Links between Dieudonné, the Belgian anti-Semite Laurent Louis, and Iran show how anti-Semitism is spreading in Europe