In French quenelle controversy, a defense of athletes and a denial

french soccer Alexy Bosetti performing what appears to be a quenelle salute in Nantes on Sunday. Photo credit: Screen capture from the website terra.com.br

French soccer player Alexy Bosetti performing what appears to be the quenelle salute in Nantes, Jan. 5, 2014. Photo credit: Screen capture from the website terra.com.br

(JTA) — The founder of a French football team defended athletes who performed the controversial quenelle gesture.

Meanwhile, the popular French soccer player Alexy Bosetti said a picture of him performing the gesture, which is widely seen as anti-Semitic and echoing the Nazi salute, was merely him showing off a tattoo.

Jean Luc Donivar, the founder of the Nice Dolphins, which plays American football, in a nearly 1,000-word statement said it was anachronistic to attribute anti-Semitic or pro-Nazi undertones to the quenelle.

His statement concerned photos of eight players performing the gesture that were taken in December and surfaced online last week.

Nice Matin, a French local news site, reported on the Dolphins affair Monday.

“Great thinkers rehash what happened 60 or 100 years ago and invent prohibitions to stay relevant, but the new generation doesn’t live in the past,” Donivar wrote in the statement titled “I am furious,” which he published on the team’s website.

He added that “as a man of color, it hurts me to be accused of racism or anti-Semitism,” and that the gesture is only a fashion and a statement of disagreement with the establishment. He ended his statement with“Leave me alone.”

The gesture was invented by the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala. It involves placing one’s outstretched left palm on one’s right shoulder while pointing downward with one’s right arm.

Many French politicians and Jewish groups believe the gesture is an inverted Nazi salute. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls last week termed it “an anti-Semitic gesture of hate.”

In recent months, French media reported on dozens of individuals who performed the quenelle in front of sites connected to the murder of Jews, including the Toulouse school where a Muslim extremist in 2012 killed three children and a rabbi.

Meanwhile, Bosetti of the OGC Nice club was seen performing a gesture reminiscent of the quenelle on Sunday during a National Cup match in Nantes, according to a report and photo published by the Brazilian news site terra.com.br.

But the player denied performing the gesture, tweeting on Sunday, “I showed my tattoo and not a quenelle so there you go. Thanks. ;)

France has laws against displaying Nazi symbols to cause offense, but the quenelle is seen as too vague a reference to justify prosecution. Lawmaker Meyer Habib said he will submit a bill proposing to ban the gesture, which Valls indicated does violate France’s laws against incitement.

Valls is expected to issue this week a circular to mayors of all French cities, instructing them to ban performances by Dieudonne, who has been convicted seven times for inciting hate against Jews.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe said last week that he welcomed Valls’ initiative, as did Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld; the Jewish philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy; and the CRIF umbrella group representing French Jewish communities.

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