West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka was criticized by a French government minister and Jewish groups on Saturday for celebrating a goal in the English Premier League with a gesture viewed in France as being anti-Semitic.
After scoring the first of his two goals in a 3-3 draw at West Ham on Saturday, Anelka performed a salute used by French comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala that is widely known as "la quenelle."
It involves pointing one straightened arm downward while touching that arm's shoulder with the opposite hand, and is seen by many as a Nazi salute in reverse.
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West Brom coach Keith Downing said the former France international was "totally surprised" by the reaction to the gesture.
"It is dedicated to a French comedian he knows very, very well," Downing said of Anelka's celebration. "He uses it in his act and I think speculation (that it is anti-Semitic) can be stopped now, it is absolute rubbish really.
"He (Anelka) is totally unaware of what the problems were or the speculation that has been thrown around."
However, Valerie Fourneyron, France's sports minister, said on Twitter: "Anelka's gesture is a shocking, disgusting provocation. No place for anti-Semitism and incitement to hatred on the football field."
Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said it was "sickening that such a well-known footballer would make such an abusive and hateful gesture in front of tens of thousands of spectators."
"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.
"This salute was created by a well-known extreme anti-Semite who has displayed his hatred of Jews, mocked the Holocaust and Jewish suffering."
The English Football Association said it will look into the incident.
Jewish groups have complained to French President Francois Hollande about Dieudonne's trademark gesture, which they have linked to anti-Semitic incidents in France. The French government is considering ways to ban performances by the comedian, who is a friend of Anelka.
The salute has been defended as an anti-establishment gesture.