LONDON (AP) — West Bromwich Albion forward Nicolas Anelka was charged by the English Football Association on Tuesday for performing a gesture considered to be anti-Semitic while he was celebrating a goal.
The former French national team play has until Thursday to respond to the charge and is facing a minimum five-game Premier League ban under the FA's anti-discrimination sanctions.
West Brom said Anelka is "considering his options" and added its internal inquiry will conclude when the FA process is over.
Anelka's Twitter account later linked to an online video from a French Jewish leader who questioned the FA's decision to take action.
"It looks a bit severe to me," said Roger Cukierman, President of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions.
It "would be reprehensible only in the case where the gesture was made in front of a synagogue or a Holocaust memorial. When it is made in a place that has no Jewish specificity, it seems to me that it is a gesture of rebellion, a little anarchist, against the establishment. And that, it seems to me, doesn't deserve a severe sanction."
The gesture, which is known in France as a "quenelle" and has been described as an "inverted Nazi salute," involves pointing one straightened arm downward while touching the shoulder with the opposite hand.
It was popularized by a French comedian whose performances are considered anti-Semitic. Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala denies anti-Semitism claims, but he has been convicted multiple times for inciting racial hatred or anti-Semitism.
This month, Dieudonne agreed to abandon a controversial show banned in several French cities after angering the government.
An anti-racism group, Kick It Out, said the FA has "spent a longer time than desirable" before charging Anelka over the incident in the globally-televised match against West Ham on Dec. 28.
Anelka said then the gesture was meant to show support for Dieudonne and it was "anti-system" rather than anti-Semitic.
While accepting that Anelka is not anti-Semitic, Britain's Jewish security organization warned Tuesday that the "quenelle" could be directed at Jews more often as a result of its use in a match.
"Anelka has introduced a very ugly phenomenon into British football," the Community Security Trust said.