The French footballer Nicolas Anelka has come under fire for making an alleged anti-Semitic gesture during a football match in England, which the striker claims it was meant as a tribute to a controversial comedian.
The incident came during Saturday’s 3-3 draw between Anelka’s West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United in the Premier League.
Celebrating after scoring the first of two goals in the match, the 34-year-old thrust his straightened right arm downwards while tapping his bicep with the other hand.
The gesture, known as a "quenelle", has been made famous in France by comedian Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala, widely known just by his first name, and is often interpreted as a modified Nazi salute and anti-Semitic.
Anelka’s use of the gesture sparked immediate widespread condemnation.
"Anelka's gesture is a shocking provocation, disgusting," French Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron said on Twitter. "There's no place for anti-Semitism on the football field."
England’s Football Association said it would launch an investigation into Anelka’s actions, while the European Jewish Congress demanded that Premier League officials ban the player.
"This salute is merely a lesser known Nazi salute and we expect the same kind of punishment to be handed down by the authorities as if Anelka had made the infamous outstretched arm salute," said European Jewish Congress president Moshe Kantor in a statement.
The former Real Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Paris St Germain striker tried to play down the incident, however.
In a Twitter post, he said the gesture had been meant merely as a tribute to Dieudonné, a close friend of Anelka’s.
The former France International was backed by West Brom caretaker coach Keith Downing.
"It is dedicated to a French comedian he knows very, very well," said Downing. "I think speculation can be stopped now, it is absolute rubbish really.
"He is totally unaware of what the problems were or the speculation that has been thrown around, he is totally surprised by it."
‘An anti-Semite and racist’
Dieudonné is a controversial figure in France and has outraged French authorities and Jewish organisations many times with his frequent anti-Semitic tirades. He has been fined seven times for defamation, insult and provocation to hate, and for racial discrimination.
The quenelle salute, said to look like a mix of a downward Nazi hail and an obscene French movement meaning "Up Yours", has been adopted by many of Dieudonné's fans, though interpretations vary as to whether it is anti-Semitic or anti-establishment.
Dieudonné himself is linked to some radical figures, notably to the former leader of France's xenophobic National Front party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is also godfather to one of his daughters.
On Friday, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls announced he would try to legally ban public performances by Dieudonné.
Valls judged Dieudonné was "no longer a comedian" but was rather an "anti-Semite and racist" who fell afoul of France's laws against incitement to racial hatred.
“Despite a conviction for public defamation, hate speech and racial discrimination, Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala no longer seems to recognise any limits,” a statement released by Valls read.
“Consequently, the interior minister has decided to thoroughly examine all legal options that would allow a ban on Dieudonné’s public gatherings, which no longer belong to the artistic domain, but rather amount to a public safety risk.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2013-12-29