Nicolas Anelka, center, celebrates a goal before flashing the anti-Semitic ‘quenelle.’ / Getty Images
It has been almost three weeks since West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka celebrated scoring two goals against West Ham United by doing the quenelle, the reverse Nazi salute popularized in France by comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.
Yet Anelka remains unpunished. He continues to play, in fact. Albion’s then-head coach Keith Downing refrained from condemning him immediately after the soccer match, and in the days that followed the club itself held back as well. Albion instead released a clumsy statement, which acknowledged that the quenelle “has caused offense in some quarters.” Albion “asked Nicolas not to perform the gesture again.”
But for the Jewish community — including the owner of the club’s shirt sponsor Zoopla — in the United Kingdom, it is the lack of response from the Football Association (FA) and anti-racism campaign organizations like Kick It Out that has disappointed and caused upset.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Community Security Trust (CST) have been in regular contact with the FA since December 28, when the CST made the original complaint against Anelka and furnished the FA with information about the quenelle, its use and meaning in France as an anti-Semitic gesture, and its association with Dieudonné. Tal Ofer, London-based member of the European Jewish Parliament, also made an individual complaint to the FA about the incident.
Marketing Week claims that the realtor website has contacted West Brom with an ultimatum following Anelka’s quenelle. Zoopla, whose founder and CEO is Jewish businessman Alex Chesterman, insist that if Anelka plays in Monday’s Premier League home game against Everton it will want its name removed from the team’s shirts.
For the authorities, though, the investigation into Anelka’s celebration itself has dragged on into its third week, with the FA refraining from informing the public or community organizations about its progress. In response to a widely-circulated story that the FA has brought in an unnamed academic to assist in determining the meaning of the quenelle, the FA did state that, “We are working with an appointed expert regarding the salient issues related to the quenelle gesture.” However, there will be no further updates on the investigation until January 20 at the earliest.
Speaking to The Forward, a spokesperson for the CST said that “we have given the FA lots of evidence about feelings in the Jewish community” pertaining to how the quenelle has been interpreted and the direction the investigation is heading in. However, “the lack of public comment and the lack of transparency” has created a “silence that has left a vacuum, leaving the impression that there is a lack of urgency” on the part of the FA to deal with Anelka, the source of much frustration.
The CST spokesperson pointed to a leading article in London’s Jewish Chronicle published January 9 under the headline, “So much for the fight against racism,” and continuing: “This is what we’re getting and hearing from the community. It is an indication of the frustration.”
In that editorial, The Jewish Chronicle made clear where it stood. “For a national public body, its behavior is a disgrace,” it reads. “It is perfectly proper for it to conduct its own inquiry. But not only does it refuse to give any timeframe, it refuses to say who will conduct the inquiry or give any information at all about its remit and conduct. We now know that the FA thinks the most appropriate response to this incident is secrecy and delay.”
The Board of Deputies, reflecting much the same sentiment, told The Forward in a statement, “The quenelle is widely recognized as an anti-Semitic gesture and Dieudonné has form for race hate. French politicians and Jews on the continent generally were appalled to see this gesture displayed on television. We call on the FA to investigate this matter urgently and take appropriate action.”
Jewish community organizations continue to place their trust in the FA’s investigative process, believing it remains the appropriate way to deal with Anelka’s gesture. However, the spokesperson for the CST acknowledged that any future relationship between their group and the FA is very much dependent on the outcome of the process. “If there’s not a sufficient punishment, it will be very difficult to accept that and carry on our work as normal,” they said.
Kick It Out – which works to challenge discrimination and encourage inclusion with English football – has also drawn criticism from sectors within the Jewish community for failing to publicly condemn Anelka. The Jewish Chronicle’s editorial said, “When racist abuse is directed at black players, Kick It Out — quite rightly — is speedy and vocal in its criticism. But when a player makes a deliberately anti-Semitic gesture…then there is a deafening silence. Not a single word of criticism or condemnation.”
“We can only suggest that a name change is necessary: Kick It Out Unless The Target Is Jewish.” The leader concluded, “Kick It Out has no interest in fighting anti-Semitism.”
In an attempt to explain itself, Kick It Out released a statement Wednesday saying, “While an investigation is being undertaken, it is protocol for Kick It Out not to comment on matters which might prejudice the outcome and be unfair to any party or individual involved in this process.”
Kick It Out placed additional pressure on the FA to come to a finding in its investigation into Anelka, noting that “like others, [Kick It Out] is very frustrated at the length of time taken to investigate this issue.” Kick It Out, they added, “has taken criticism, particularly from community organisations, who feel deeply and rightly aggrieved by the gesture and want to know why the campaign has not made more of a public condemnatory statement of Anelka’s actions.”
Kick It Out, in conclusion, will “certainly make known its comments on this case at the conclusion of the FA’s investigation.”