French basketball star Tony Parker has come under fire over pictures and video of him performing the “quenelle,” which is considered a neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic gesture derived from the Nazi salute. Criticism of Parker’s use of the gesture came a day after top French soccer player Nicolas Anelka flashed the “quenelle” to celebrate a goal in the English Premier League on Saturday.
The signal, which consists of extending one’s right hand toward the ground while the left hand grasps the shoulder, was devised by Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a controversial French comedian who has been condemned in court several times for anti-Semitic remarks.
Parker was roundly criticized by the Simon Weisenthal Center on Sunday.
“As a leading sports figure on both sides of the Atlantic, Parker has a special moral obligation to disassociate himself from a gesture that the government of France has identified as anti-Semitic,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center’s told the website Algemeiner.
Parker, a star point guard for the San Antonio Spurs and the French national basketball team, was photographed making the salute earlier this year with M’bala.
Parker also flashed the “quenelle” on a French TV show. Asked “How big is [French President] Francois Hollande?” the player stood up, smiled, and put his right arm over his left shoulder.
The Spurs and the National Basketball Association did not respond to Algemeiner’s requests for comment.
The “quenelle” signal has been rapidly spreading among anti-Semites in Europe and is being used by individuals to fly under the radar of strict anti-hate speech laws in parts of the Continent.
Over the past two months, as it gained in popularity, the “quenelle” trend has prompted hundreds of Europeans to post pictures of themselves online performing the Heil-like salute. Many of the images were taken at sensitive sites such as in the Auschwitz concentration camp, the Anne Frank House and even the Western Wall.
In defending his behavior, Anelka, the soccer star, said that the gesture was merely “a special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonne.” The French sports minister accused Anelka of anti-Semitism on Saturday night, calling his use of the gesture “A shocking, disgusting provocation.”
“There’s no place for anti-Semitism and incitement to hatred on the soccer field,” Valerie Fourneyron said in a tweet.
Although he denied any connection to racism, Anelka could be penalized if the act is deemed to be offensive by soccer authorities.
Dieudonne, the comedian who invented the salute, is a professed anti-Semite, Hamas supporter and Holocaust denier. He was convicted last month for the seventh time of incitement against Jews and slapped with a $36,000 fine. Like the Nazi salute, the “quenelle” is seen as a variant of the Roman salute and is understood to challenge the prohibition on performing the Nazi salute.
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said he would seek a ban on Dieudonné’s shows “on the grounds that they were a threat to public order,” the Guardian reported Sunday.
Times of Israel staff and JTA contributed to this report.