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France seeks ban on ‘anti-Semitic’ election candidates

Paris — French authorities were hunting Monday for a means to ban a stand-up comic turned "anti-Zionist" militant from fielding lists of candidates in European elections next month.

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s chief of staff Claude Gueant accused comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala of leading an overtly anti-Semitic campaign and said: "If they are not banned, I’m sure the French will reject these lists."

Dieudonne and his ally Alain Soral, a former member of Jean Marie Le Pen’s far-right National Front, say they will present candidates in at least five of France’s electoral regions for June’s European Parliamentary vote.

The 42-year-old comedian, who was born in the suburbs of Paris to a French father and a Cameroonian mother, is a well-known figure in France and is going on trial on Tuesday on charges of inciting hatred against Jews.

In September 2007, he was fined after he accused Jews of "memorial pornography" and attacked "the Zionist lobby which cultivates the idea of their unique suffering … and has declared war on the black world."

Dieudonne’s career began as a colleague of a Jewish comedian, Elie Semoun, but the pair has since fallen out publicly and the black comic is now closer to Le Pen, who is the godfather to his daughter.

Earlier this year, Le Pen was in the audience when Dieudonne deliberately courted controversy by inviting on stage during his act Robert Faurisson, a 79-year-old academic who has been convicted of Holocaust denial.

The participation of Dieudonne’s lists in the European poll would increase community tensions in France, which is home to Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish minorities and has seen outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence.

Gueant, one of President Sarkozy’s most powerful aides, sounded the alarm this week, denouncing Dieudonne, first on Radio J, a Jewish community broadcaster, and then again Monday on the mass market RTL.

"Dieudonne is anti-Semitic all the time, it’s absolutely odious," he declared. "The public authorities are trying to see where these plans stand under the law. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to ban them.

"Can you present yourself for election with an overtly anti-Semitic manifesto? It’s an absolutely scandalous idea which should be morally condemned by all right thinking people," he said.

Dieudonne’s ally Soral hit back, in terms which reflect his supporters’ obsession with alleged shadowy networks of Jewish influence.

"It’s scandalous. What he said and where he said it — on a radio station for one community — shows that the highest levels of the state take their orders from the Zionist lobby in France," Soral told AFP.

The dispute over Dieudonne’s lists raises temperatures just ahead of the visit to Paris of Israel’s new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, which pro-Palestinian groups will mark with street protests.

Lieberman, whose hawkish views have made him a bugbear for many of those in Europe who oppose Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, will be in Paris on Tuesday and police are braced for trouble.

While France’s main right and left-wing parliamentary parties oppose Dieudonne’s electoral initiative, not everyone agrees with Gueant that banning his lists from the vote would be the right response.

Socialist euro-MP Vincent Peillon, who faces a possible challenge from an anti-Zionist list in his own electoral region, said he agreed that a legal challenge should be considered if the law had been broken.

But he worried the controversy was only generating publicity for the group.

"We are well aware of Dieudonne’s intolerable excesses, but we can see how he wants to create a media buzz, so I’m not sure if it’s in our interests to talk much about Mr Dieudonne," he told the i-Tele news network. "He doesn’t deserve this much attention, he’s marginal in French society."

Dave Clark/AFP/Expatica