French Jewish leader backtracks on softened quenelle stance

(JTA) — The president of France’s main Jewish group has backtracked on his softened stance on the quenelle gesture, after it was interpreted as support for a French soccer player who performed the gesture during a match.

Roger Cukierman of the CRIF umbrella group said in a filmed interview published Tuesday on the website of the Le Figaro daily that the decision by England’s Football Association to punish Nicolas Anelka, a French soccer player who performed the gesture, widely perceived as anti-Semitic, during a match is “a bit severe because it seems to me that this gesture has an anti-Semitic connotation, which would be reprehensible, only when performed in front of a synagogue or a Holocaust memorial site.”

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But when performed at a place “without any Jewish connection, it seems to me like an anarchist gesture against the establishment, which, it seems, does not merit severe punishment,” he said.

Anelka posted the Le Figaro video of Cukierman on Twitter with the message: “Nothing to add.”

Cukierman on Thursday reiterated that the gesture is “an inversed Hitler salute” and that he is “troubled” Anelka dedicated it to French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, “whose own motives are incontestably anti-Semitic,” the Associated Press reported.

“It must be noted that the quenelle gesture has spread dangerously among our fellow citizens and especially among young people,” Cukierman said in a statement on CRIF’s website. “I was disappointed by Anelka’s attitude, whose behavior is the opposite of that which should be shown by a top-class athlete to the youths of our country.”

On Tuesday, the Football Association announced that Anelka faces a ban of at least five matches for improper conduct, aggravated because it “included a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief” for performing the gesture on the pitch after scoring a goal on Dec. 28.Anelka has until Thursday evening to respond to the charges.

Two more sponsors of the West Bromwich Albion soccer club, Jack Wolfskin and Holler watches, are considering withdrawing their backing from the team, the British ITV network reported. Zoopla, a major sponsor of the West Bromwich Albion team, on Monday canceled a $4.93 million deal with the team over the issue. The company is co-owned by Jewish businessman Alex Chesterman.