French Jewish leader softens stance on quenelle gesture

(JTA) — The president of France’s main Jewish group has nuanced his blanket condemnation of the quenelle gesture and said it is not necessarily anti-Semitic.

Roger Cukierman of the CRIF umbrella group adjusted his position in a filmed interview published Tuesday on the website of the Le Figaro daily.

Reacting to the decision that day by England’s Football Association to punish Nicolas Anelka, a French soccer player who performed the gesture during a match, Cukierman said, “It seems to me 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.”

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.”

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.

On Dec. 26, Cukierman was quoted by Le Point and on CRIF’s website as saying, “We are very concerned by the impact of this gesture, which we consider a Nazi salute.”

The quenelle was invented by Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, an anti-Semitic comedian. Earlier in December, CRIF requested and received a special audience with President Francois Hollande to discuss the quenelle and other actions by Dieudonne.

On Dec. 31, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said at a news conference, “This gesture is a gesture of hatred, it’s an anti-Semitic gesture and all those who perform it should know — they can’t deny knowledge — that they are performing an anti-Semitic gesture, an inverted Nazi gesture.”

NEXT STORY