The FA needs educating over Anelka
Who knew? Nicholas Anelka — the Premier League star once known for his offensive football but now known for his offensive hand gestures — is neither an antisemite nor guilty of “intentionally expressing or promoting antisemitsm”. So says the Football Association which, in some strange silent power-creep, now has jurisdiction to determine not just whether a striker is offside or not, but whether he harbours malevolent conspiracy theories about the Jewish people.
After a long, lawyerly tribunal at the Grove Hotel in Watford (now specialising in Jewish weddings and disciplinary hearings), the FA also found that Anelka’s use of the quenelle during a football match in December 2013 was an abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting gesture.
This can’t have been a terribly hard finding to make. It is, after all, a gesture based on the Nazi salute and invented by the French “comedian” Dieudonné, whose comic routine specialises in mocking the Holocaust. Dieudonné famously sings about Shoahannas: a conflation of the Shoah with the French for pineapple, to show how funny it all was. He has inspired numerous fans to head to Auschwitz to photograph themselves making his hilarious “anti-establishment” sign. Dieudonné’s shows have been banned in France, a decision upheld by its top administrative court of justice, the Conseil d’Etat.
In this context, the conclusion of the FA that Anelka was not intentionally antisemitic, despite Anelka’s contemporaneous defence that he made the quenelle to show solidarity with his friend Dieudonné, is extremely surprising. It would be ludicrous to suggest that Anelka did not know what all France knew: that Dieudonné was an antisemite. Dieudonné has been convicted on numerous occasions in French courts of antisemitism. Why else was Anelka showing “solidarity” with Dieudonné if it were not in protest at his having been prosecuted for his egregious antisemitism? What else was the “solidarity” for? Just because Anelka liked his shows? At the very least, Anelka was supporting a known antisemite with a gesture he invented. If he was not intentionally antisemitic, he was certainly reckless in this regard.
Consider the sanctions imposed. The FA has handed Anelka a five-game ban, a fine of £80,000 and attendance on a “compulsory educational course”. However, if Anelka is not an antisemite then it seems peculiar to punish him and send him for education. Presumably he is to go on a course in how to stop unintentionally celebrating goals with accidentally antisemitic gestures. Poor chap: if he really didn’t know he was doing anything wrong, then he should hardly be punished and fined.
But the FA knew that this would have looked worse. Instead, as is now commonplace, a fudge is preferred. The offence is identified and given credence but the tribunal contorts itself to avoid finding that the wrongdoer is really guilty. The intention is that everybody wins, the reality is that the guilty get off the hook.
More concerning still is the lingering sense that giving offence to Jews is not considered as serious as causing offence on the grounds of skin colour. Anelka’s punishment is notably milder than the eight-game ban given to Luis Suárez for the racial abuse of Patrick Evra, notwithstanding that the FA similarly found that
Suárez was “not racist”. Suárez used insulting words “with a reference to colour”, just as Anelka made insulting gestures with a reference to antisemitism. This discrepancy is striking. The FA also takes pains to criticise Tottenham fans for chanting “Yid Army” in pride, but appears to do little regarding opposing fans singing songs about Jews in hate.
The Anelka judgment is not brave, not coherent and probably wrong. Worse, it is suggestive of the fact that the FA puts antisemitism is in a lower league to its attitude towards other forms of hate. Perhaps it is the FA which needs the educational awareness course.
Jeremy Brier is a barrister specialising in commercial and public law