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French Jewish leader backtracking on softened quenelle stance

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(JTA) — The president of France’s main Jewish group backtracked on what appeared to be a softened stance on the quenelle 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 on Thursday reiterated that the quenelle is “an inversed Hitler salute” and he is “troubled” that Nicolas Anelka of the English West Bromwich Albion club dedicated it to the French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, “whose own motives are incontestably anti-Semitic,” The Associated Press reported. Dieudonne created the gesture.

“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 the CRIF 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.”

Two days earlier,  Cukierman had said in a filmed interview on the website of the Le Figaro daily that the decision by England’s Football Association to punish Anelka for performing the gesture, which is 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.”

But, he said, when the quenelle is 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.”

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.

Anelka on Thursday rejected the charges and requested a hearing, according to British media reports. If Anelka is found guilty, the reports said, he could be suspended for up to 10 matches, which could possibly end his career.

Two more sponsors of the West Bromwich Albion 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 team, on Monday canceled a $4.93 million deal over the issue. The company is co-owned by Jewish businessman Alex Chesterman.

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