‘I am not anti-Semitic or racist’, insists Anelka

Former France international footballer Nicolas Anelka rubbished accusations on Sunday that a controversial 'Nazi-style' gesture he made after scoring a goal was 'anti-Semitic or racist'. Anelka faces a possible ban for making the salute.

'I am not anti-Semitic or racist', insists Anelka
Ex France international striker Nicolas Anelka makes the controversial "quenelle" gesture on Saturday, but has denied he is racist or ant-Semitic. Photo: Ian Kington/AFP

French footballer Nicolas Anelka on Sunday strongly defended a controversial gesture he made during a weekend match, saying "I am neither anti-Semite nor racist", even as British football authorities mulled possible punishment.

The 34-year-old West Bromwich Albion striker and former member of France's national team issued a series of tweets rejecting claims that the gesture he made Saturday was anti-Semitic or a thinly veiled Nazi-like salute, as many have interpreted.

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 – in which he thrust his straightened right arm downwards while tapping his bicep with the other hand – 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 also called on "people not to be duped by the media" which were "lumping together things and causing an argument without knowing what the gesture really means".

Anelka asserts the gesture was a dedication to a friend, a French comedian named Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala who has made the salute – which he calls a "quenelle", meaning a meat or fish dumpling – his signature.

Dieudonne, as he is widely known, has made overtly anti-Jewish remarks in public for years. He has been fined seven times for defamation, insult and provocation to hate, and for racial discrimination.

Dieudonne claims his gesture only reflects his anti-establishment views, although it is widely interpreted as a Nazi-style or anti-Semitic action in France.

Anelka himself has marred his career with tantrums and controversial remarks. The footballer converted to Islam in 2004.

Condemnation in France

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.

SEE ALSO: France tries to ban 'anti-Semitic' comedian

(Dieudonné M'bala M'bala Photo: Joel Saget/AFP)

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".

Interior Minister Manuel Valls is considering whether to ban all public appearances by Dieudonne. Valls said Dieudonne was "no longer a comedian" but was rather an "anti-Semite and racist" who fell afoul of national laws against incitement to racial hatred.

President Francois Hollande said Valls was doing the right thing.

"We must approve and support the government and the interior minister in the face of words or actions whose anti-Semitic character cannot be denied," he told journalists during a visit to Saudi Arabia.

The European Jewish Congress has also criticised Anelka and called for him to face the same punishment that would be handed down for a Nazi salute.

"It is sickening that such a well-known footballer would make such an abusive and hateful gesture in front of tens of thousands of spectators," European Jewish Congress president Moshe Kantor said.

"There should be no room for such intolerance and racism in sports and we expect that the English Premier League officials as well as the police will give Anelka the appropriate punishment."

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."

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."

The Union of Jewish Students in France also attacked Anelka's "cowardly support" for Dieudonne.

The comedian at the heart of the controversy meanwhile thanked Anelka in a tweet Sunday, saying "Bravo to Anelka for his 'quenelle'. Magnificent!!"

But Dieudonne added that the quenelle was "not an anti-Semitic or Nazi sign".

Jean-Yves Camus, an expert on the far-right, said in the Journal Du Dimanche Sunday newspaper that the "quenelle" was for some simply an "anti-establishment gesture" and for others "an anti-establishment gesture against a Jewish plot".

Dieudonne first used the "quenelle" publicly in 2009 while campaigning in the European elections. Since then it has become his trademark and has been widely reproduced on the Internet and social media, at venues ranging from the "Asterix" theme park to the exterior of a synagogue.

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French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts

A French court has ordered Twitter to give activists full access to all its documents relating to efforts to combat racism, sexism and other forms of hate speech on the social network.

French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts
Photo: Alastair Pike | AFP

Six anti-discrimination groups had taken Twitter to court in France last year, accusing the US social media giant of “long-term and persistent” failures in blocking hateful comments from the site.

The Paris court ordered Twitter to grant the campaign groups full access to all documents relating to the company’s efforts to combat hate speech since May 2020. The ruling applies to Twitter’s global operation, not just France.

Twitter must hand over “all administrative, contractual, technical or commercial documents” detailing the resources it has assigned to fighting homophobic, racist and sexist discourse on the site, as well as “condoning crimes against humanity”.

The San Francisco-based company was given two months to comply with the ruling, which also said it must reveal how many moderators it employs in France to examine posts flagged as hateful, and data on the posts they process.

The ruling was welcomed by the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF), one of the groups that had taken the social media giant to court.

“Twitter will finally have to take responsibility, stop equivocating and put ethics before profit and international expansion,” the UEJF said in a statement on its website.

Twitter’s hateful conduct policy bans users from promoting violence, or threatening or attacking people based on their race, religion, gender identity or disability, among other forms of discrimination.

Like other social media businesses it allows users to report posts they believe are hateful, and employs moderators to vet the content.

But anti-discrimination groups have long complained that holes in the policy allow hateful comments to stay online in many cases.

French prosecutors on Tuesday said they have opened an investigation into a wave of racist comments posted on Twitter aimed at members of the country’s national football team.

The comments, notably targeting Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, were posted after France was eliminated from the Euro 2020 tournament last week.

France has also been having a wider public debate over how to balance the right to free speech with preventing hate speech, in the wake of the controversial case of a teenager known as Mila.

The 18-year-old sparked a furore last year when her videos, criticising Islam in vulgar terms, went viral on social media.

Thirteen people are on trial accused of subjecting her to such vicious harassment that she was forced to leave school and was placed under police protection.

While President Emmanuel Macron is among those who have defended her right to blaspheme, left-wing critics say her original remarks amounted to hate speech against Muslims.