French Soccer Player Anelka: I'm Not an Anti-Semite
Nicolas Anelka, the French soccer player who has caused outrage over his post-match gesture that appeared to be a modified 'Nazi-style' salute, on Sunday insisted that he is not anti-Semitic.
"I am neither anti-Semite nor racist," AFP quoted him as having said, as British soccer authorities mulled possible punishment over the incident.
The 34-year-old striker thrust his straightened right arm downwards while tapping his bicep with the other hand after scoring a goal in a game in Britain between his West Bromwich Albion team and West Ham United.
The gesture - an imitation of a salute frequently used by a French comedian friend of Anelka's who has been convicted several times for anti-Semitic public comments - was immediately and widely condemned.
According to AFP, on Sunday Anelka issued a series of tweets rejecting claims that the gesture he made Saturday was anti-Semitic or a thinly veiled Nazi-like salute.
His response came amid growing outrage online and internationally, and a risk that he could face match suspensions if England's Football Association finds his act racially offensive.
Anelka argued in his tweets that the gesture was merely "anti-establishment".
"I don't know what religion has to do with it. Of course I'm not an anti-Semite or racist and (I) stand by my gesture," he claimed.
He also called on "people not to be duped by the media" which, he claimed, were "lumping together things and causing an argument without knowing what the gesture really means".
Both politicians and Jewish leaders have expressed outrage over the incident, with the European Jewish Congress demanding that English Premier League officials ban Anelka.
"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," said European Jewish Congress president Moshe Kantor in a statement.
The Football Association told AFP Sunday that it would investigate the incident to determine if Anelka should be punished.
He could face a minimum five-ban match under a new anti-discriminatory disciplinary measures introduced in May.
French authorities have already condemned Anelka's on-field gesture. French Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron on Saturday called it a "shocking, sickening provocation" and said there was "no place for anti-Semitism and inciting hatred on the football pitch".
President Francois Hollande has also condemned the incident and called for action “in the face of words or actions whose anti-Semitic character cannot be denied.”
The latest to join the chorus of condemnation was the head imam of the Great Mosque of Paris who said Sunday he "strongly condemned any act or words of an anti-Semitic or racist nature in the sporting world," according to AFP.
Dalil Boubakeur said the "quenelle" was a "hybrid gesture between a Nazi salute and an inverted 'up yours' sign."
He said sports should represent "the highly humanist and universal values of peace, friendliness and fraternity."
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman wrote Sunday on his Facebook page that the Anelka’s behavior is “the essence of the entire problem that exists in Europe today, toward the Jews and toward Israel.”
"Anelka is a Muslim since 2004,” the seasoned politician explained. “The atmosphere created by the radical Muslims in Europe, whose number keeps on growing, combines with anti-Semitic sentiments and de-legitimization of the state of Israel.”
MK Shimon Ohayon (Likud Beytenu), who heads the Knesset Caucus for Battling Anti-Semitism, has called for Anelka to be punished.
“I call on the Premier League management to place Anelka on trial and sentence him severely,” said Ohayon, who added that the “reverse Nazi salute” is, without a doubt, an anti-Semitic gesture. “This gesture has no place in the world in general, and on soccer fields in particular,” he added.