What the Heck Is a 'Quenelle'?

It's a Bird, It's a Plane — It's Notorious Anti-Semitic Gesture

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By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Published January 01, 2014.
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(Haaretz) — It’s a word that most of us had never heard until this week. Quenelle: a word that sounds like it could be a sophisticated French pastry or obscure breed of exotic bird, or perhaps the latest bizarre celebrity name for a child.

On Monday, it was the third-most-searched-for term on Google.

As those who did not spend their winter holidays unplugged and are up on the latest online scandals know by now, a quenelle is a gesture that is getting a whole lot of famous people into a lot of trouble. At first glance, it looked innocent enough, and it was hard to see what all the fuss was about. To American eyes, it looks like someone with bad aim is trying to strike the pose of the pledge of allegiance with one hand, while the other arm is somehow paralyzed.

Unfortunately, that’s far from the true meaning.

The word began its journey to becoming infamous last Saturday when a French soccer star Nicolas Anelka who plays for the British team West Bromwich Albion made the gesture in celebration of a goal at a game - and an outcry ensued. He claims that it is merely an ‘anti-establishment’ gesture popularized by his comedian friend. Others disagreed sharply. On the same day Valerie Fourneyron, France’s sports minister tweeted: “Anelka’s gesture is a shocking, disgusting provocation. No place for anti-Semitism and incitement to hatred on the football field.” A host of other leaders and Jewish groups also protested strongly against the gesture, even asking that Anelka be banned from the field for making a salute “created by a well-known extreme anti-Semite who has displayed his hatred of Jews, mocked the Holocaust and Jewish suffering.”

And so thousands of us turned to Google in an attempt to figure out exactly what was going on. How bad was this bizarre gesture? Is it merely a rebellious version of the international sign for F— Y–? Or indeed a subtle way to give a “Heil Hitler” without getting in trouble? This explanation just seemed so illogical. Why would celebrities of African origin embrace a Nazi salute? Do they not understand that Hitler was no fan of dark-skinned folks?

The BBC went with this definition:

“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.” (I read this and thought - Aha - fish or meat paste! I knew it sounded like some kind of food group!)


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