England’s Football Association (FA) suspended French player Nicolas Anelka for five games and fined him the equivalent of US$ 133,400 for making the ‘quenelle’, which is widely considered as a Nazi salute in reverse, at a match of his West Brom team in December 2013.
The ‘quenelle’ was made popular by French comic Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, who was convicted repeatedly in France of violating hate-speech laws. French authorities recently banned Dieudonné’s show because of its anti-Semitic content, and he was forced to remove any offensive parts from the program.
The FA cited the quenelle’s ethnic, racial or religious connotations. Although an FA disciplinary panel backed Nicolas Anelka’s insistence that he was not being intentionally anti-Semitic, performing the gesture was still found to be racist and abusive. Anelka was also ordered to complete an education course. The player can appeal, and he must decide within seven days of receiving the panel’s written reasons. “He is now waiting to receive the commission’s full reasons for their decision before considering whether or not to appeal,” Anelka’s legal team said.
His club West Brom responded to the verdict by suspending him while an internal investigation is being conducted. “The club acknowledges that the FA panel ‘did not find that Nicolas Anelka is an anti-Semite or that he intended to express or promote anti-Semitism by his use of the quenelle,'” West Brom said in a statement. “However, the club cannot ignore the offence that his actions have caused, particularly to the Jewish community, nor the potential damage to the club’s reputation.”
The panel found Anelka guilty of two charges – that the gesture “was abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper,” and it was racially offensive. “The misconduct was an ‘aggravated breach’ … in that it included a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief,” the panel’s verdict said.
The World Jewish Congress (WJC) welcomed the ban and the fine for Anelka. “This suspension and fine show without a doubt that anti-Semitic, racist or ethnically derogatory gestures will not be tolerated in European soccer,” said WJC President Ronald S. Lauder. “The use of racist or anti-Semitic gestures or chants by European soccer players and crowds is a serious problem and brings shame on the continent.”
WJC Vice-President Vivian Wineman, who is the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, also welcomed Anelka’s punishment. “This supports the FA’s decision to invoke its own regulations after its assiduous report concluded that Mr. Anelka’s gesture had anti-Semitic connotations and is highly offensive to Jews and right-minded members of the public,” he said.
The European Jewish Congress expressed concern that Anelka was yet to voice any regret over the case. “Even if the FA is not convinced that the player’s intent at the time was anti-Semitic, he surely knows now the origins of the quenelle and the hurt and pain it caused the Jewish community, yet we are still waiting for an apology,” EJC President Moshe Kantor said. “Anelka’s silence speaks volumes.” The organization hopes the FA will use the case to help clamp down on abuse against Jews. “Anti-Semitism remains the fastest growing hate in football, on the field and in the stadiums, and we hope that this episode will be used positively to once and for all stamp out hatred for Jews in football,” Kantor said.