Richard Belzer's Nazi salute not what it looks like?

Jun 13, 2012 at 3:05 p.m. ET

Actor Richard Belzer is used to giving heat to big, bad criminals as Detective Munch on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. But now he's getting heat from the Anti-Defamation League -- after throwing up the "Heil Hitler!" (complete with a reference to the dictator's 'stache) during a TV festival in Monte Carlo.

Belzer Nazi Salute Scandal

The Nazi salute Richard Belzer gave on the red carpet yesterday was meant to be "satire," the actor and comic said in a recent statement to TMZ.

"My grandfather represented Israel in the UN before it was made a nation," he said, adding (sarcastically again), "I'm a Jewish comedian, and there's this new thing out, it's called satire, irony and historical reference."

The salute that will go down in infamy occurred during a TV festival in Monaco.

The "Heil Hitler!" was also accompanied by the Law & Order star throwing fingers to his upper lip — referencing Hitler's toothbrush 'stache.

Belzer's rep also claims that he was chatting with a reporter about the Chaplin classic, The Great Dictator, when he put his improv skills to use — with disastrous results — by acting out an impromptu scene from the flick, featuring a "mocking" Nazi salute.

"To say that a Jew can't do that gesture as homage to Chaplin's masterpiece … is like Muslim extremists killing a cartoonist for disparaging Mohammed in his art," Belzer's statement goes on.

Anti-Defamation League Director Abe Foxman (a Holocaust survivor) isn't satisfied with the comic's explanation for his behavior, saying it remains "inappropriate" and "offensive" and indicating that it was actually made worse by Belzer's own Jewishness.

"Someone who is Jewish should know better and not disregard Jewish pain and tragedy just for the sake of a joke," Foxman said.

But could we expect any less from an individual who appears to be as wry and bizarre in real life as the character (that bizarre eccentric Detective Munch) he portrays on TV? Try telling that, though, to the individuals whose families were wiped out during the Holocaust.

What do you think — Did he take it too far, or is this just a form of artistic expression?

Image courtesy of Carrie Devorah/