Nicolas Anelka has denied there was any anti-semitic intent behind the “quenelle” gesture which is being investigated by the Football Association.
Anelka was condemned as racist by the French Sports Minister for the goal celebration he performed during West Bromwich Albion’s draw at West Ham United on Saturday and the FA will consult leading Jewish groups before deciding what action to take against the striker. If they deem it to have ben racially offensive, as is being claimed by the French government, he will incur a lengthy suspension.
But in a series of messages issued on Twitter on Sunday afternoon, Anelka insisted the gesture was merely a tribute to his friend, French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, and that the gesture had been misinterpreted.
Dieudonne, who invented the quenelle (which literally means dumpling), is a hugely controversial figure in France, where he has been convicted six times of defamation, causing offence and inciting racial hatred, and has been fined a total of £53,400.
Anelka said: “ (The) meaning of quenelle: anti-system. I do not know what the word ‘religion’ has to do with this story! This is a dedication to Dieudonné. With regard to the ministers who give their own interpretations of my quenelle, they are the ones that create confusion and controversy without knowing what it really means, this gesture.
"I ask people not to be duped by the media. And of course, I am neither racist nor anti-Semitic and I fully assume (stand by) my gesture.”
Dieudonne has claimed he is anti-Zionist and anti-establishment, but not anti-semitic. An appeals court upheld his most recent conviction last month, imposing a fine of £23,000 after complaints over a song performed in one of his videos about “Shoah nanas” or “Holocaust chicks”.
The FA’s investigation, which began within hours of the incident, will include asking Anelka for his observations, and video evidence will be examined.
The FA recognise there is a huge cultural complexity to the case and will work closely with Jewish groups, the Community Security Trust and Maccabi GB, and anti-discriminatory group Kick It Out.
The CST and Maccabi are both members of the Jewish Leadership Council and worked with the FA over the latest campaign to try to eradicate the word ‘Yid’ from football chants.
Anelka has already been condemned by the European Jewish Congress, who want him to face the same punishment that would be handed down for a Nazi salute.
“It is sickening that such a well-known footballer would make such an abusive and hateful gesture in front of tens of thousands of spectators,” said European Jewish Congress president Dr Moshe Kantor.
“There should be no room for such intolerance and racism in sports and we expect that the English Premier League officials as well as the police will give Anelka the appropriate punishment.
“We know that English football officials have a very low tolerance for racism at football matches and we hope that all concerned will abhor and show zero-tolerance for this hateful Nazi salute.
“Furthermore, we hope that this gesture is banned in all places of Europe where Nazi salutes are banned. Merely inverting the traditional Nazi salute should not allow anti-Semites to spread and display their hate with impunity.” The FA also plan to talk to French and European partners over the matter, which could include the French Football Association and FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe).
French Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron immediately condemned Anelka for performing the “disgusting” gesture, while his predecessor Chantal Jouanno has demanded the 34-year-old is punished.
“The ‘quenelle’ is a Nazi gesture that is clearly anti-Semitic,” said Jouanno. “There is no point prevaricating over how it should be interpreted. Anelka deserves to be sanctioned.” Croatian defender Josip Simunic will miss the World Cup after being given a 10-game ban by FIFA after leading fans in a chant with pro-Nazi connotations.
The FA’s investigation is expected to take some time. In March, it was announced that any player found guilty of discriminating against an opponent will be suspended for a minimum of five games.
It was deemed that charges will be brought in the event of discrimination of the field of play relating to ethnic origin, colour, race, religion or belief, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, ability and disability.
Dieudonne is at the centre of a row in France following an announcement by Manuel Valls, the Interior Minister, that he was considering whether his public appearances could be banned. He performed his one-man show to a packed theatre in Paris on Saturday night. About 200 of his supporters gathered outside in a demonstration of support for the comedian.
Dieudonné, 47, has repeatedly been accused of making offensive anti-Semitic jokes in his performances and the quenelle has been blamed for provoking attacks earlier this month by young Jewish men on a Muslim man and a hotel. There was disgust in France in September when a video emerged of two French soldiers were doing the quenelle outside a synagogue whilst on anti-terrorism patrol.
Valls said he was considering banning Dieudonné’s performances after he targeted Patrick Cohen, a Jewish radio journalist who had criticised him. The mayors of Marseille and Perpignan, in the south of France, have launched legal action to prevent him for performing. The president of the French league against racism and anti-semitism, Alain Jakuowicz said the quenelle signifies the “sodomisation of victims of the Holocaust”, a comment which prompted Dieudonne to launch a legal action against him.