The 'Quenelle' Affair

European Jewish Group Urges Soccer Authorities to Combat Racism

French anti-racism group insists the salute performed by player Nicolas Anelka's was indeed anti-Semitic.

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor is asking soccer authorities to step up their fight against racism and anti-Semitism in the wake of Nicolas Anelka's controversial goal celebration in a Premier League match.

In a letter sent both to the English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke and UEFA president Michel Platini, Kantor wrote that his organization often receives reports of "attacks on Jews, whether verbal or physical, which also include acts of anti-Semitism at matches involving English and European football clubs."

Anelka is the subject of an investigation by the English Football Association after celebrating the first of his two goals for West Bromwich Albion against West Ham with a gesture that's known in France as a "quenelle." It involves pointing one straightened arm downward while touching the shoulder with the opposite hand and has been described as an inverted Nazi salute.

West Brom is also investigating the matter internally, but Anelka, who is facing a five-match ban if found guilty by the FA, has promised not to do the gesture again and is available for his club's home game against Newcastle on Wednesday.

The 34-year-old Anelka has defended his actions by saying he was showing his support for French comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, who performs the gesture on stage and popularized it in France. Dieudonne, who has been frequently accused of anti-Semitism, is facing a possible ban of his public performances after French Interior Minister Manuel Valls vowed to examine all legal options that would put a stop to the comedian's shows.

Both Anelka and Dieudonne claim the salute is anti-establishment and not anti-Semitic. But Kantor said Anelka's goal celebration, which has been described as "disgusting" by the French sports minister, was "a reminder that hatred of Jews in the stands can very easily find its way right on to the pitch."

The organization leading the fight in France against racism, LICRA, also insisted it is anti-Semitic. "The 'quenelle' is an anti-Semitic gesture, there is no doubt about that,’ a spokesman told the Daily Mail. "It is not a criminal offence here in France because in matters of law it is very difficult to forbid a gesture, because it is difficult to prove it was intended to be anti-Semitic," he said, adding that in 2012 there was a 59 percent increase in anti-Semitic acts in France.

"There is a core of anti-Semitism in France," he explained. "There has long been this feeling the power, the politics and media are controlled by Jewish people. They see the system as a Jewish creation, which of course is not the case. The man who invented the quenelle, M’bala M’bala, is playing to this."

Kantor, who had already asked the FA to ban Anelka for his gesture, said his group would be happy to meet with Dyke and Platini "to discuss practical ideas and suggestions for combating anti-Semitism and racism in football."

Meanwhile, it was still unclear whether Anelka will take part in Wednesday's match. West Bromiwich's head coach Keith Downing said a final decision will be made after he speaks with Anelka on Tuesday.

"His training was fine yesterday (Monday), I just need to speak to him in terms of the mental aspect for the next couple of games…. In terms of temperament, I assume he’ll be able to cope," Downing said, according to the England-based outlet Express & Star. “I wouldn’t want to throw him out there if he’s unsure about dealing with it."

Pictures of famous French sportsmen performing a "quenelle" - including San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker and Manchester City player Samir Nasri - have emerged following Anelka's goal celebration. Parker has apologized for the gesture and Nasri insisted it is not racist but anti-establishment.

AFP