Dieudonne, as he is known on stage, has responded to the criticism from prominent Jewish figures by threatening to sue them for linking his gesture – a downward straight arm touched at the shoulder by the opposite hand – to the Hitler salute.
He calls the gesture “la quenelle” – the word for an elongated creamed fish dumpling – and says it stands for his anti-Zionist and anti-establishment views, not anti-Semitism.
The gesture has gone viral on social media recently, with mostly young fans displaying it at parties and sports events. Some do it while in the audience at live television shows.
Two soldiers were sanctioned by the army in September for making the gesture in uniform in front of a Paris synagogue.
“It’s the Nazi salute in reverse,” Roger Cukierman, head of the CRIF umbrella group of Jewish organizations, said after complaining about it to Hollande last week.
“Very clearly, Mr. Dieudonne is developing a nearly professional anti-Semitism under the cover of telling jokes.”
Dieudonne, 46, Paris-born son of a Cameroonian father and French mother, began his comedy career with a Jewish sidekick in the early 1990s and appeared in several films.
Originally active with anti-racist left-wing groups, he began openly criticizing Jews and Israel in 2002 and ran in the European elections two years later with a pro-Palestinian party.
He has been fined several times in France for defaming Jews. Police broke up his one-man-show in a Brussels theater last year for suspected anti-Semitic hate speech, but he was not convicted.
When Radio France’s Patrick Cohen asked on air last week if the media should pay so much attention to him, Dieudonne suggested the journalist should get ready to emigrate.
“When I hear Patrick Cohen speaking, I say to myself, you see, the gas chambers … too bad,” he said.