Algerian soccer player handed suspended prison sentence over antisemitic post

Youcef Atal is likely to appeal sentence handed down by French court after he shared a video celebrating Oct. 7 Hamas assault; claims he intended to spread ‘message of peace’

Nice's Algerian soccer player Youcef Atal arrives at Nice courthouse, southern France, for his trial for incitement to hatred, on December 18, 2023. (Valery HACHE / AFP)
Nice's Algerian soccer player Youcef Atal arrives at Nice courthouse, southern France, for his trial for incitement to hatred, on December 18, 2023. (Valery HACHE / AFP)

PARIS, France — Algerian international soccer player Youcef Atal has been handed an eight-month suspended prison sentence and a €45,000 ($49,000) fine by a court in Nice, France for a social media post about the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

He will further pay for details on his conviction to be published in the regional daily Nice-Matin and national newspaper Le Monde, and make it visible for one month on his Instagram page.

The day after the deadly October 7 assault carried out by thousands of Hamas-led terrorists in Israel, Atal republished a 35-second video by a Palestinian preacher who called on God to send “a black day over the Jews,” French newspaper Nice-Matin reported.

The court said the social media repost provoked hatred on the grounds of religion.

Defender Atal, who has been at Nice since 2018, was suspended by the Ligue 1 club in October after the media post, which he deleted.

Some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were brutally massacred amid scenes of horrific violence in the October 7 Hamas assault, and around 240 others were seized as hostages and taken to Gaza.

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas from the Gaza Strip, which the terror group has ruled since 2007, and launched an aerial campaign and subsequent ground operation which is now in its third month.

The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip has said that more than 22,000 people have been killed since October 7, most of them women and children. These figures cannot be independently verified, however, and do not differentiate between combatants and civilians.

Israel believes it has killed some 8,500 Hamas and Hamas-affiliated terrorists inside the Gaza Strip.

Nice’s Youcef Atal looks across the field during the French League One soccer match between Nice and Marseille at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, southern France, on August 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole, File)

Atal has since apologized for the post.

“I am aware that my post shocked many people, which wasn’t my intention, and I apologize,” 27-year-old Atal said on Instagram at the time.

He also apologized to the court during the hearings, saying he had wanted to send a “message of peace” and did not watch the entire 35-second video before posting it.

That argument did not convince prosecutors or plaintiffs, mostly Jewish organizations and the Professional Football League (LFP).

“Sharing a video means being party to its message and lending it visibility,” prosecutor Meggi Choutia told the court.

“There is no talk of peace at any moment in these 35 seconds,” she added.

Wednesday’s decision was “expected, given the context and the strong political pressure,” Atal’s lawyer Antoine Vey told AFP following the verdict.

He added that the athlete would likely appeal his conviction.

Nice has suspended Atal from playing “until further notice,” while he received a seven-match ban — since expired — from the LFP.

He has however appeared for Algeria’s Fennecs three times, he is in their squad for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations tournament, and received support in his home country.

Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: