(JTA) — French Interior Minister Manuel Valls indicated for the first time that the quenelle, the quasi-Nazi salute widely seen as anti-Semitic, violates his country’s anti-hate laws.
On Tuesday, Valls said the quenelle is a form of incitement to hatred despite claims that it is merely anti-establishment rather than anti-Semitic.
“This gesture is a gesture of hatred, it’s an anti-Semitic gesture and all those who perform it should know — they can’t deny knowledge — that they are performing an anti-Semitic gesture, an inverted Nazi gesture,” Valls said at a news conference in Paris.
Spreading hateful gestures with intent to offend is illegal according to French law. Valls’ statements about the quenelle — the strongest by a French senior official — were interpreted by analysts from several French media as an indication that he may be planning to extend the prohibition to the quenelle.
Meyer Habib, a French Jewish lawmaker, on Monday wrote on Twitter that he will submit a bill proposing a ban on the quenelle.
Meanwhile, French police are searching for a man who performed the quenelle at three locales connected to the murder of Jews. A photo of the man, whose identity is not yet known, surfaced online last week in which he performed the quenelle in front of the Toulouse school where the Muslim extremist Mohammed Merah murdered four Jews in 2012.
The man also was seen performing the quenelle outside the former residence of Merah, who was killed during a shootout with French police, according to the French Jewish news site JSSnews.com. Additionally, he posed while performing the quenelle near a Paris monument commemorating the Holocaust.
Police sources in Toulouse told French media that the man is wanted for questioning.
The quenelle is the name given to the gesture by its inventor, the comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, who has been convicted several times for inciting hatred against Jews. Dieudonne is facing an eighth trial for suggesting a French Jewish journalist belonged in a gas chamber.
It is widely seen as echoing the Nazi salute but is too vague to violate French laws against displaying Nazi symbols. In recent months, the quenelle’s popularity has soared in France, with several celebrities performing it on national media.
Valls last week said he would seek a ban on public performances by Dieudonne.