Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Did Barack Obama make a Nazi saute?

Apparently he didn't know what he was doing. He seems to say that a lot these days.

More seriously this seems to be a growing trend.

French Soccer Player Gives Nazi-Like Salute After Goal. Part of His Defense? Obama Did It, Too. (See the Pictures)

Editor's note: See the important update at the bottom of this story.

The growing use of a Nazi-like salute has prompted outrage from European leaders and Jewish groups, with the controversy now drawing in a French soccer player, an NBA star and even, unwittingly, President Barack Obama.

French soccer player Nicolas Anelka is under fire for using a Nazi-like gesture to celebrate scoring a goal at a match over the weekend.

The gesture, as described by the British newspaper the Guardian, combines "a downward Nazi salute with an obscene gesture meaning 'up yours.'" Known as the "quenelle," it is widely viewed in France as anti-Semitic and sympathetic with Nazism.

The Times of Israel has also described the quenelle – like the Heil Hitler salute – as "a variant of the Roman salute." Here's what it looked like when Anelka performed it at the soccer match:

Nazi Like Salute Controversy Engulfs a French Soccer Player, an NBA Star and Now President Obama?

Nicolas Anelka performs the quenelle gesture after scoring a goal on Saturday (Image source: YouTube via Times of Israel)

Anelka took to Twitter repeatedly over the weekend to defend his move, insisting that he is neither a racist nor an anti-Semite and that other prominent personalities have also made the arm gesture.

In an effort to diminish the significance of his actions, he tweeted a photo of Obama and singers Jay-Z and Beyonce making what appears to be the same arm gesture:

Nazi Like Salute Controversy Engulfs a French Soccer Player, an NBA Star and Now President Obama?

The French soccer player tweeted this 2012 photo of President Barack Obama, Jay-Z and Beyonce, suggesting they were making the same arm gesture as his.

But Anelka's evidence has a major problem: Obama's gesture is related to a popular move associated with a hip-hop song, and the anti-Semitic salute is largely unknown in the U.S.

Jewish news site the Algemeiner directed readers to a story in the Atlanta Blackstar published last year about the September 2012 fundraiser at which the photo of the president was taken. It describes the president's move as "brushing imaginary dirt off their shoulder" in "an obvious reference to the Jay-Z hit song" entitled "Dirt off Your Shoulder."

Efraim Zuroff, Israel office director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group, called Anelka's drawing Obama, Beyonce and Jay Z into the controversy "a feeble attempt at escaping criticism and quite a weak alibi."

In a telephone interview with TheBlaze on Monday, Zuroff said of Anelka: "It's clear why he did what he did. There's no place for gestures like that that are anti-Semitic on the playing field."

Meanwhile, NBA star Tony Parker (who is French) of the San Antonio Spurs is also being lambasted by the Wiesenthal Center for performing the quenelle gesture.

Parker has been photographed a number of times apparently performing the quenelle. Here he is with Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, the French comedian credited with inventing the gesture:

Nazi Like Salute Controversy Engulfs a French Soccer Player, an NBA Star and Now President Obama?

Tony Parker (R) and comedian Dieudonne, the inventor of the salute and widely viewed in France as anti-Semitic, posing together backstage (Photo: Slate.fr via Algemeiner)

The Times of Israel linked to this video posted to YouTube in September apparently showing the basketball player making the same salute:

"Dieudonne, a professed anti-Semite, Hamas supporter and Holocaust denier, was convicted last month for the seventh time of incitement against Jews and slapped with a $36,000 fine," the Times of Israel reported.

"Tony Parker is a big boy and should explain to the public what he had in mind. He should be aware of the fact that it has become an anti-Semitic gesture and sends a very negative message and has no place in sports," Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told TheBlaze.

Parker's ex-wife Eva Longoria co-chaired Obama's re-election campaign and spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. She was one of Obama's largest fundraising "bundlers" and has been involved in the administration's immigration policy, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Anelka, who plays soccer in the English Premier League, now faces possible disciplinary action from British soccer officials for performing the offensive salute during the game which could result in a ban of up to five games.

Neither the White House nor the San Antonio Spurs immediately responded to requests for comment from TheBlaze, nor to weekend inquiries from Algemeiner.

Anelka, a convert to Islam, insisted that there was no bigotry behind his arm gesture, tweeting "I'm neither anti-Semitic nor racist." He also asked people "not to be duped by the media."

He claimed the arm move is meant to be anti-establishment, not anti-Semitic.

"This gesture was just a special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonne," Anelka tweeted.

Like the soccer player, Dieudonne also denies the gesture is anti-Semitic and insists it is "anti-establishment."

France's former sports minister Chantal Jouanno disagrees.

"The quenelle is a Nazi gesture that is clearly anti-Semitic and known to be such…There's no point in arguing about the interpretation," Jouanno said.

The gesture has become a hit with European anti-Semites wishing to stay under the radar of France's strict anti-hate laws.

Comedian Dieudonne has inspired many Europeans who have been posting photos of themselves online posing while making the Nazi-like salute including at the most inappropriate locations such as at the Auschwitz concentration camp, the Anne Frank House, the Western Wall, Berlin's Holocaust memorial and outside a French Jewish school where an Islamic extremist once murdered a rabbi and three children.

Nazi Like Salute Controversy Engulfs a French Soccer Player, an NBA Star and Now President Obama?

The quenelle gesture at Auschwitz (Image source: YouTube via Times of Israel)

The Anti-Defamation League found these photos of those posing as they perform the offensive gesture in sensitive spaces:

Nazi Like Salute Controversy Engulfs a French Soccer Player, an NBA Star and Now President Obama?

Alain Sorel, an anti-Semitic French film­maker and writer, posed doing a quenelle at the Berlin Holo­caust memorial (Photo courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League)

Nazi Like Salute Controversy Engulfs a French Soccer Player, an NBA Star and Now President Obama?

This unidentified man used the gesture at Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, France where a Muslim terrorist killed a rabbi and three children (Photo courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League)

Roger Cukierman who heads the umbrella organization of French Jews, CRIF, called the gesture "the Nazi salute in reverse."

"Very clearly, Mr Dieudonne is developing a nearly professional anti-Semitism under the cover of telling jokes," Cukierman said.

Displaying Nazi symbols if meant to offend is illegal in France; however, some believe because the quenelle is vague, it may not be prosecutable.

"The quenelle is too vague to be treated like a Nazi salute," Anne-Sophie Laguens of the Paris bar association wrote in Le Nouvel Observateur weekly in September.

Before the gesture gained notoriety, the word quenelle was understood in French to mean a kind of dumpling.

Dieudonne has also coined the term "shoananas," a mashup of the words for Holocaust (shoah) and pineapple in French (ananas), which has been described as the comedian's way of denying the Holocaust in a humorous manner without violating French laws against Holocaust denial.

President Francois Hollande has said his government "will fight against the sarcasm of those who purport to be humorists but are actually professional anti-Semites."

The Guardian reported that French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has said he plans to find a legal way to ban Dieudonne's shows "on the grounds that they were a threat to public order."

Le Parisien on Saturday quoted Valls saying that the last straw was Dieudonne's attack on Jewish journalists. In a recent show, the comedian said of the journalist Patrick Cohen, "when I hear Patrick Cohen speaking, I say to myself, you see, the gas chambers … too bad [they no longer exist]."

Anelka's coach, Keith Downing, is defending the soccer player, calling accusations that Anelka used a racist move on Saturday "absolute rubbish."

"He is totally unaware of what the problems were or the speculation that has been thrown around, he is totally surprised by it," Downing said, according to the UK's Daily Star.


NBA player Tony Parker has released a statement explaining his use of the gesture. He says, in part, he did not understand the meaning at the time.

You can read his full statement in our follow-up story.

This story has been updated for clarity.

Who, What, Why: What is the quenelle gesture?

Magazine Monitor Magazine Monitor A collection of cultural artefacts
Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala and Nicolas Anelka Anelka (right) said the sign was a "dedication" to comedian Dieudonne

French footballer Nicolas Anelka has denied accusations of anti-Semitism after celebrating a goal by performing a controversial hand gesture known as a "quenelle". What is it?

The gesture involves touching or gripping your shoulder with one hand while holding the palm of your other hand outstretched and pointing to the ground. Some describe it as a combination of the bras d'honneur with a bent arm (which means "up yours") and the Nazi salute.

It is the trademark of the hugely controversial French comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, who once said he would like to put a quenelle - a rugby-ball-shaped serving of fish or meat paste - up the backside of Zionists.

Dieudonne made the gesture when he headed his own anti-Zionist campaign in the European elections in 2009. French media trace it further back, to one of his performances in 2005. It came to greater prominence in September when two soldiers were photographed appearing to make the gesture outside a Paris synagogue.

There are thousands of examples posted online, some at sensitive sites such as the Auschwitz death camp, and Dieudonne's fans can be seen repeating it outside his theatre.

Fans of Dieudonne outside his theatre in Paris

West Bromwich Albion striker Anelka said on Twitter it was dedicated to his "comedian friend" - who has been convicted of making anti-Semitic remarks and now faces a ban on public appearances. Both Anelka and Dieudonne say it is an anti-establishment symbol of defiance. But the French sports minister, Valerie Fourneyron, was one of many to disagree with the footballer's interpretation, saying it was sickening and incited racial hatred.

Continue reading the main story

The answer

  • It's a hand gesture devised by French comedian Dieudonne, who says it's an anti-establishment symbol
  • But many view it as an anti-Semitic gesture, reminiscent of the Nazi salute
  • People have been photographed making the sign outside synagogues and at Holocaust sites

Jean-Yves Camus, a French academic who studies the extreme right, told the Independent the quenelle has become a "badge of identity, especially among the young, but it is doubtful that all of them understand its true meaning". He says Dieudonne has become the hero of a movement convinced the world is run by Washington and Tel Aviv.

"I think it's likely to be more complex than just being associated with the far right," says Jim Shields of Aston University, an expert on the French far right, because Dieudonne has been involved with anti-racist left-wing activists as well as far-right activists. "At the moment, the use of this gesture seems too diffuse to fit any simple right-left interpretation."

Anelka is not the first French footballer playing in England to make the gesture. Samir Nasri and Mamadou Sakho were also photographed in this way, although Sakho later tweeted that he had been tricked and didn't realise its true meaning.

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