MONTREAL — Controversial French comedian Dieudonné was ordered by a Quebec court to pay $75,000 to French-Jewish singer and actor Patrick Bruel for making damaging statements about him.
During an interview shown on Télé-Québec in 2006, Dieudonné alleged that Bruel is such a strong supporter of the Israeli army that its killing of Palestinian children in the 2006 war in southern Lebanon was “normal” for him and that he is an “ultra-Zionist” with a “superiority complex.”
In 2007, Bruel (whose real last name is Benguigui) sued Dieudonné (whose full name is Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala) for defamation and sought $175,000 in damages, citing repeated attacks against him by Dieudonné that have hurt his reputation.
Dieudonné never responded to the lawsuit, filed in Quebec Superior Court, and was found liable by default.
Judge Danièle Besner, however, reduced the damages, citing the fact that the show was aired only once on Nov. 29, 2006, on the program Francs-tireurs on Télé-Québec, the provincially owned broadcaster.
The producer decided not to repeat it, but the episode was posted online on YouTube and has received tens of thousands of hits.
In the Francs-tireurs interview, conducted by Richard Martineau in Paris, Dieudonné said that Bruel “actively supports” the Israeli army, including financially. He added that Bruel is “practically an Israeli soldier. So when they bomb southern Lebanon and they kill Palestinian children, for him, it’s normal.”
Elsewhere, Dieudonné described Bruel as “a product of this ultra-Zionist political system, he’s a super-militant… He has the superiority complex of certain Israelis.”
Noting that Bruel is also a champion poker player, Dieudonné described him as a “liar who always lies to his public.”
Dieudonné has been criminally charged several times in France for his remarks about Jews and the Holocaust, although he has been acquitted on appeal in each case.
Despite his notoriety, Dieudonné nevertheless remains a popular entertainer in Quebec and has presented several stand-up comedy shows here in the past few years.
Dieudonné’s remarks on Télé-Québec were made soon after Bruel appeared on the Radio-Canada TV program Tout le monde en parle, where he said he did not understand why Quebecers like Dieudonné so much, given the multiple times he has been sued for anti-Semitic remarks in France,
Bruel has said he would turn over any damages he received in this suit to charity.
Steven Slimovitch, legal counsel for B’nai Brith Canada, said the decision is “an important one because it makes clear that the new anti-Semitism – negating the right of Israel to exist – is just as unacceptable as classical anti-Semitism… From a Jewish community perspective, that is reassuring, comforting.”
Slimovitch, who attended one of Dieudonné’s shows at the Just for Laughs Festival several years ago, said the comedian’s slander of Bruel represents “the new face of anti-Semitism.”
Canadian Jewish Congress vice-president Joseph Gabay likewise applauded the decision. “I think it says that, here in Quebec, there is a border that cannot be crossed, that Dieudonné is not welcome here. I hope that the people who have invited him [to perform in Quebec] will take into consideration this judgment.”
Gabay noted that Dieudonné has a long history of making remarks offensive to Jews and has been taken to court many times in France. Although Dieudonné has a following in this province, Gabay believes that Quebec society as a whole is “very sensitive” to anti-Semitic and other racist speech.
Dieudonné has in the past compared Israel to Nazis and apartheidists, Gabay added, so when he uses Zionism as an accusation, it has a clear intention.
Although Dieudonné has faced civil suits in France, the fines were far lower than the Quebec court awarded. In 2006, in two separate cases, Dieudonné was ordered in France to pay fines totalling 9,500 euros (about $15,000) for comparing his Jewish critics to former slave dealers and for libelling a popular Jewish TV, host whom he accused of financing the Israeli army.