BY REUBEN LEWIS
The past week or so has seen a swathe of articles discussing Nicolas Anelka’s ‘quenelle’ celebration. By now, most of you will know what happened and will have at least a vague understanding of its implications. At first, I was doubtful the striker was a genuine anti-Semite, just like I still do not think John Terry actually dislikes black people. Things happen in the heat of the moment. Words are said, gestures are made. However, it was three words following the event, when the adrenaline of scoring a goal had passed, along with the excuse of the ‘heat of the moment’, that made me have second thoughts about Anelka.
His defence, that it was merely a ‘dedication to Dieudonne’, implicates him as an advocate of Jew hatred. The notion of support Anelka refers to suggests a prior knowledge of Dieudonne’s views and an appreciation of the ghastly anti-Jewish rhetoric he bases most of his ‘comedy’ around. Indeed, just the day before, the comedian was threatened by a ban at the hands of French Home Office minister Manuel Valls. This was after he said this about journalist Patrick Cohen: “When I hear him, I tell myself, you know, gas chambers…too bad”. How noble of Anelka, then, to show support for his mate’s fight for justice.
As a friend, Anelka would have known Dieudonne has been convicted eight times for anti-Semitic related incidents. He would also have been aware that the French president, Francis Hollande, publicly stated his desire to ban Dieudonne and all other, quote, ‘professional anti-Semites’ from performing in the public domain.
Anelka would have also been aware of the unequivocal anti-Jewish nature of the quenelle, which was already infamous in his homeland. While it is true the gesture was originally intended as an up yours to ‘the system’, whatever that may be, it has evidently developed into an explicit display of Jew hatred, and saying Dieudonne has tacitly supported this transformation would be a naïve understatement. The plethora of images online of people posing with the quenelle gesture in front of Jewish landmarks, be it synagogues, Holocaust memorials and so on, is testament to its undeniable anti-Semitic connotations. As Martin Samuel analogised, supporting Dieudonne as Anelka professes to do so, and being unaware of his anti-Jewish antics, would be akin to a proponent of Team Nigella claiming to know nothing about her cocaine abuse.
Supporting the quenelle, therefore, deserves a severe ban until at least the end of the season. Not just for the initial offence caused, which I, along with many other Jews, can deal with, but for the likely consequences of it. Samuel writes how Anelka deserves a ban twice as severe as Luis Suarez. I disagree – it should be much more. Suarez got an eight game ban for a private word of abuse in the ear of Patrice Evra. “Negrito”: a horrible word but ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, irrelevant and inconsequential (do not get me wrong, I’m not dismissing it). The quenelle, however, was a pre-meditated public gesture that carries far more significance and could have frightening consequences. Anelka has made a previously oblivious nation fully aware of this salute and what it represents and it will inevitably be greeted by support in some areas of the country. It would be no surprise to see fans, especially of West Ham, Chelsea and Arsenal, display this gesture upon visits to White Hart Lane. Hey, the multi-talented could do it simultaneously with the ubiquitous ‘Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz’ chants, sung by a minority from all three aforementioned clubs. Pictures have already surfaced of high profile stars such as Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho and Manchester City’s Samir Nasri showing off their quenelles in recent times. The FA needs to set a precedent and stamp out any future shows of solidarity or support, from fellow professionals at least, by imposing a severe ban on Anelka.
Moreover, I feel it worth noting my irritation at the many people on Twitter debating the meaning of this celebration and questioning its anti-Semitic undertones, when the evidence is quite literally there for all to see. Not only that, but West Bromwich Albion’s statement apologising for offence “some quarters” may have felt is a sad indictment of the comparatively light attitude placed towards anti-Semitism in this country. That silly quarter of society who care about anti-Semitism, eh? I guarantee you that had the celebration been a gesture supporting the work of someone who, for example, celebrated the black slave trade, there would have been widespread public furore and mass apologies by all those involved. Yet so far, West Brom have only said the striker will not do the celebration again.
One can’t predict how this fiasco will develop, and it is impossible to judge whether or not Anelka actually advocates anti-Semitism, as indicative as the evidence may be, or rather is just a downright idiot. What is for certain, however, is that the Frenchman deserves a lengthy ban.
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