Heil to the chiefHeil to the chief

Quenelle soccer star points to Obama

Nicolas Anelka, accused of making pro-Nazi salute, posts picture of president, says he is not racist or anti-Semitic

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Nicolas Anelka makes the 'quenelle' gesture on December 28 (screenshot: YouTube)
Nicolas Anelka makes the 'quenelle' gesture on December 28 (screenshot: YouTube)

Top French soccer player Nicolas Anelka, accused of making an anti-Semitic gesture, defended himself Sunday by mistaking US President Barack Obama for a fan of the offending salute.

After making the “quenelle” salute, regarded as a neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic gesture, to celebrate scoring a goal in the English Premier League on Saturday, Anelka posted a picture of Obama, rapper Jay Z, and his wife singer Beyonce making a similar gesture.

Obama and the two star performers were in fact posing for a picture doing the well-known “brush off the shoulders” hip-hop move at a NYC fundraiser, which has no connection to the quenelle.

The “quenelle” signal is 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. The signal, 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.

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. Like the Nazi salute, the quenelle is seen as a variant of the Roman salute and, considering its inventor’s penchant for defiance of France’s anti-Nazi laws, is understood to challenge the prohibition on performing the Nazi salute.

“This gesture was just a special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonne,” wrote Anelka on Twitter.


Anelka also tweeted Sunday night that he is neither racist nor anti-Semitic, and that he assumes responsibility for the gesture.

Israel’s Sport 2 TV Channel, which broadcast the game and whose commentator condemned Anelka for the signal, said the soccer player had previously been photographed with Dieudonné making the salute.

Anelka made the gesture Saturday after scoring for his team, West Bromwich Albion, against West Ham United in the English Premier League. The player could be penalized if the act is deemed to be offensive by soccer authorities.

England’s Football Association opened an investigation into the incident.

Over the past two months, the “quenelle” trend has gained popularity, prompting 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.

Anelka, a former French national team star who has played for top clubs including Arsenal and Real Madrid, converted to Islam in 2004.

Anelka’s coach, Keith Downing, said after the game that the player had not intended offense by making the gesture. “It is dedicated to a French comedian he knows very, very well. [The comedian] uses it in his act and I think speculation can be stopped now; it is absolute rubbish really. [Anelka] is totally unaware of what the problems were, or the speculation that has been thrown around; he is totally surprised by it.”

Times of Israel staff and JTA contributed to this report.

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