Editor’s note: See the important update at the bottom of this story.
The growing use of a Nazi-like salute has prompted outrage from European leaders and Jewish groups, with the controversy now drawing in a French soccer player, an NBA star and even, unwittingly, President Barack Obama.
French soccer player Nicolas Anelka is under fire for using a Nazi-like gesture to celebrate scoring a goal at a match over the weekend.
The gesture, as described by the British newspaper the Guardian, combines “a downward Nazi salute with an obscene gesture meaning ‘up yours.’” Known as the “quenelle,” it is widely viewed in France as anti-Semitic and sympathetic with Nazism.
The Times of Israel has also described the quenelle – like the Heil Hitler salute – as “a variant of the Roman salute.” Here’s what it looked like when Anelka performed it at the soccer match:
Anelka took to Twitter repeatedly over the weekend to defend his move, insisting that he is neither a racist nor an anti-Semite and that other prominent personalities have also made the arm gesture.
In an effort to diminish the significance of his actions, he tweeted a photo of Obama and singers Jay-Z and Beyonce making what appears to be the same arm gesture:
But Anelka’s evidence has a major problem: Obama’s gesture is related to a popular move associated with a hip-hop song, and the anti-Semitic salute is largely unknown in the U.S.
Jewish news site the Algemeiner directed readers to a story in the Atlanta Blackstar published last year about the September 2012 fundraiser at which the photo of the president was taken. It describes the president’s move as “brushing imaginary dirt off their shoulder” in “an obvious reference to the Jay-Z hit song” entitled “Dirt off Your Shoulder.”
Efraim Zuroff, Israel office director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group, called Anelka’s drawing Obama, Beyonce and Jay Z into the controversy “a feeble attempt at escaping criticism and quite a weak alibi.”
In a telephone interview with TheBlaze on Monday, Zuroff said of Anelka: “It’s clear why he did what he did. There’s no place for gestures like that that are anti-Semitic on the playing field.”
Meanwhile, NBA star Tony Parker (who is French) of the San Antonio Spurs is also being lambasted by the Wiesenthal Center for performing the quenelle gesture.
Parker has been photographed a number of times apparently performing the quenelle. Here he is with Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, the French comedian credited with inventing the gesture:
The Times of Israel linked to this video posted to YouTube in September apparently showing the basketball player making the same salute:
“Dieudonne, a professed anti-Semite, Hamas supporter and Holocaust denier, was convicted last month for the seventh time of incitement against Jews and slapped with a $36,000 fine,” the Times of Israel reported.
“Tony Parker is a big boy and should explain to the public what he had in mind. He should be aware of the fact that it has become an anti-Semitic gesture and sends a very negative message and has no place in sports,” Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told TheBlaze.
Parker’s ex-wife Eva Longoria co-chaired Obama’s re-election campaign and spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. She was one of Obama’s largest fundraising “bundlers” and has been involved in the administration’s immigration policy, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Anelka, who plays soccer in the English Premier League, now faces possible disciplinary action from British soccer officials for performing the offensive salute during the game which could result in a ban of up to five games.
Neither the White House nor the San Antonio Spurs immediately responded to requests for comment from TheBlaze, nor to weekend inquiries from Algemeiner.
Anelka, a convert to Islam, insisted that there was no bigotry behind his arm gesture, tweeting “I’m neither anti-Semitic nor racist.” He also asked people “not to be duped by the media.”
He claimed the arm move is meant to be anti-establishment, not anti-Semitic.
“This gesture was just a special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonne,” Anelka tweeted.
Like the soccer player, Dieudonne also denies the gesture is anti-Semitic and insists it is “anti-establishment.”
France’s former sports minister Chantal Jouanno disagrees.
“The quenelle is a Nazi gesture that is clearly anti-Semitic and known to be such…There’s no point in arguing about the interpretation,” Jouanno said.
The gesture has become a hit with European anti-Semites wishing to stay under the radar of France’s strict anti-hate laws.
Comedian Dieudonne has inspired many Europeans who have been posting photos of themselves online posing while making the Nazi-like salute including at the most inappropriate locations such as at the Auschwitz concentration camp, the Anne Frank House, the Western Wall, Berlin’s Holocaust memorial and outside a French Jewish school where an Islamic extremist once murdered a rabbi and three children.
The Anti-Defamation League found these photos of those posing as they perform the offensive gesture in sensitive spaces:
Roger Cukierman who heads the umbrella organization of French Jews, CRIF, called the gesture “the Nazi salute in reverse.”
“Very clearly, Mr Dieudonne is developing a nearly professional anti-Semitism under the cover of telling jokes,” Cukierman said.
Displaying Nazi symbols if meant to offend is illegal in France; however, some believe because the quenelle is vague, it may not be prosecutable.
“The quenelle is too vague to be treated like a Nazi salute,” Anne-Sophie Laguens of the Paris bar association wrote in Le Nouvel Observateur weekly in September.
Before the gesture gained notoriety, the word quenelle was understood in French to mean a kind of dumpling.
Dieudonne has also coined the term “shoananas,” a mashup of the words for Holocaust (shoah) and pineapple in French (ananas), which has been described as the comedian’s way of denying the Holocaust in a humorous manner without violating French laws against Holocaust denial.
President Francois Hollande has said his government “will fight against the sarcasm of those who purport to be humorists but are actually professional anti-Semites.”
The Guardian reported that French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has said he plans to find a legal way to ban Dieudonne’s shows “on the grounds that they were a threat to public order.”
Le Parisien on Saturday quoted Valls saying that the last straw was Dieudonne’s attack on Jewish journalists. In a recent show, the comedian said of the journalist Patrick Cohen, “when I hear Patrick Cohen speaking, I say to myself, you see, the gas chambers … too bad [they no longer exist].”
Anelka’s coach, Keith Downing, is defending the soccer player, calling accusations that Anelka used a racist move on Saturday “absolute rubbish.”
“He is totally unaware of what the problems were or the speculation that has been thrown around, he is totally surprised by it,” Downing said, according to the UK’s Daily Star.
NBA player Tony Parker has released a statement explaining his use of the gesture. He says, in part, he did not understand the meaning at the time.
You can read his full statement in our follow-up story.
This story has been updated for clarity.