French footballer Nicolas Anelka’s use of a salute dubbed anti-Semitic in a celebration of a weekend goal in England has sparked a storm in Israel.
Politicians and newspaper commentators alike saw it as a new sign of rising anti-Semitism in Europe, where France has not been immune from a rise in support for the far right.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke on Facebook of the “problematic situation in Europe toward Jews and the state of Israel,” after Anelka gave the controversial salute in Saturday’s 3-3 Premier League draw between West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United.
Anelka has agreed not to perform the celebration again, at the request of his club West Brom, and has denied he intended to cause offence.
Invented by French stand-up Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala and imitated by his many fans, the “quenelle” gesture involves putting one arm across the chest and straightening the other.
It is perceived by some as a symbol of anti-Semitic identification, although he denies it.
Israel’s parliamentary committee for immigration, absorption and diaspora affairs convened for a hearing on Monday to discuss “the rise in anti-Semitism”.
Parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein denounced a wave of “new anti-Semitism”.
Committee chairman Yoel Razvozov warned that while Anelka defended his salute as just a gesture, “if we fail to act with resolve, it may develop into violent action”.
French embassy first secretary Zachary Gross assured members of the committee of his government’s commitment to the safety of Jews in France.
Various estimates put the size of France’s Jewish community at 350,000-500,000, making it the largest in Europe.
Columnist Ben Dror Yemini warned in the Maariv newspaper: “Dieudonne is not a joke. Far from it.”
He called the comedian “the tip of the iceberg,” adding: “So long as the industry of lies (against Israel and Jews) continues to flourish, Dieudonne and his followers will continue to bloom.”
Natan Sharansky, who heads the Jewish Agency — the body in charge of Jewish immigration to Israel — told public radio it was “our duty to strengthen ties with the Jews of France”.
But he refused to use the perceived rise in anti-Semitism in France as a spur to immigration to Israel.
“Anti-Semitism is no ally of Zionism,” he said.
More than 3,000 Jews from France emigrated to Israel in 2013, a 63 percent rise compared to 2012.