French Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls, who is seeking to ban shows by standup comedian Dieudonne, faced embarrassment as photographs emerged showing him apparently unaware that a group of young people with him were performing the “reverse Nazi salute” popularized by the comic.
Dieudonne is to embark on a nationwide tour from Thursday next week, but several venues have pulled out amid the recent publicity over antisemitic comments.
A photograph taken during a visit to the southern region of Aveyron in September shows Valls looking straight into the camera.
Beside him are at least five young men performing the gesture known as the quenelle, with one arm down and the other crossed over the chest.
The gesture, which has been condemned by French politicians as antisemitic, has been Dieudonne’s trademark salute for the past five years. He claims it is anti-establishment.
The picture was displayed on the Web sites of several French newspapers and magazines on Tuesday.
Le Figaro and Le Parisien were among those to publish it online, although not in their print editions. The photograph has been widely shared by supporters of Dieudonne and other versions of the same occasion have come to light.
Valls told RTL radio on Tuesday that the comedian, whom he called “a petty salesman of hatred,” was “obsessed with a hatred of Jews.”
He said he knew about Dieudonne’s success on the Internet and in his shows, but “his spectators need to be aware.”
Paris magistrates announced on Monday that charges may be laid against the comedian for inciting racial hatred for suggesting after a Jewish journalist interviewed him last week that it was a shame the Nazi gas chambers were no longer working.
On Tuesday, the Toulouse State Prosecutor said he was investigating a photo showing a young man performing the quenelle in front of the Jewish school in southwest France where an Islamist gunman killed a teacher and three pupils in March 2012.
The prosecutor is trying to track down those responsible for the picture, which was posted online this month. Dieudonne is due to perform in Toulouse on Feb. 22.
After the comedian was warned by Valls that his shows risked being banned, French striker Nicolas Anelka performed a quenelle on the pitch during a Premier League game in England on Saturday last week, saying it was in support of his friend.
His actions triggered widespread condemnation, particularly in France, leading the soccer player on Monday to say that he would not repeat the salute.