PARIS, Feb 20 (AFP) – A French comedian vowed Friday to perform in a Paris street after a venue cancelled his show because of threats made by people offended by a recent “Nazi Jew” skit he performed on national television.
Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala – known simply as Dieudonne in France – told Europe 1 radio his impromptu routine outside the Olympia venue which scrapped his appearance was a protest in favour of artistic expression, and against the “censorship” he was facing.
“This is the first time in France, I believe, that an artist has been banned from the stage like this,” he said.
The Olympia announced Wednesday it was reimbursing the 1,500 tickets sold for Dieudonne’s show that was to have taken place Friday because of an apparently organised campaign of telephone calls and faxes opposing the performance.
Some were sufficiently threatening that the police advised the hall would be jeopardising public safety if it did not implement onerous security measures, including X-ray machines and bag checks for explosives.
A Paris judge Thursday rejected Dieudonne’s bid to have the cancellation overturned.
A French performers’ union, the SFA, said it considered the Olympia’s decision to be “an attack on freedom of expression”.
The uproar surrounding Dieudonne started December 1, when the comedian went on national television dressed as an Orthodox Jew and jokingly urged France’s disaffected youths – many of them from Arab backgrounds – to “join the Axis of Good: the American-Zionist Axis.”
He finished the skit with a Nazi salute, saying “IsraeHeil”.
The incident elicited immediate outrage from French Jewish groups, a reprimand to the network from the broadcasting regulator, and a court hearing for Dieudonne that is yet to be set.
Dieudonne, a 38-year-old atheist born in France of a French mother and a Cameroonian father, has repeatedly apologised to “people who might have been offended” by the skit, but insists he has always parodied various religious, political and ethnic groups in the name of humour but without malice.
“I played an Israeli extremist – hey, they exist. I did not in any way talks about the Jewish community in France…. I spoke about Israel. But I think it’s really tough to criticise the state of Israel today. That’s the reality,” he said.
“I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m not racist,” he said, adding that his career was now slipping away from him as a result of the campaign against him.
The attention given to his show and its cancellation underlined the sensitivity surrounding France’s 600,000-strong Jewish population – the biggest in Europe.
Some Jewish groups and Israel have accused France of experiencing a big surge in anti-Semitism, despite official French figures showing that the number of anti-Jewish attacks, which grew after the start of the latest bloody conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in 2000, was actually declining.
The issue was one of the central themes of a four-day state visit to France by Israeli President Moshe Katzav, which ended early Friday.
The head of the Jewish Students’ Union, Yonathan Arfi, said Friday his group was not involved in coordinating the calls to Olympia decrying Dieudonne’s show and added that it “would have preferred (the cancellation) be made for political reasons rather than ones related to security.”
Subject: France news