Tony Parker
San Antonio Spurs and French national basketball star Tony Parker apologized on Monday for a photo in which he unknowingly used the quenelle, an alleged anti-Semitic hand gesture. Wikipedia Commons

San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker has apologized after a photo of him performing a “quenelle” hand gesture went viral.

Several French news outlets posted a photo of Parker demonstrating the quenelle — a gesture described as a “Nazi salute in reverse” — alongside comedian Dieudonné, the man who purportedly created the gesture, the New York Daily News reports. As the photo went viral, prominent Jewish organizations, including the French affiliate of the World Jewish Congress and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called on Parker to apologize for his actions.

“It’s the Nazi salute in reverse,” Roger Cukierman, a leading member of the French affiliate of the World Jewish Congress, told Reuters. Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center echoed Cukierman’s admonition, asking Parker to “apologize for his past use of the quenelle ‘Nazi’ salute,” The Algemeiner, a New York-based Jewish newspaper, reports.

“As a leading sports figure on both sides of the Atlantic, Parker has a special moral obligation to disassociate himself from a gesture that the government of France has identified as anti-Semetic,” Cooper told the newspaper, according to the New York Daily News.

Dieudonné, a French celebrity whose full name is Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, has referred to the quenelle gesture as a symbol of defiance, as anti-Semitic actions are illegal under French law, ESPN reports. He has been convicted of anti-Semitic speech in the past.

On Monday morning, Parker released a statement in which he apologized for taking the photo, claiming that he was unaware of the gesture’s meaning when posed with Dieudonné three years ago. It’s unclear if Parker will face disciplinary action from the NBA.

"While this gesture has been part of French culture for many years, it was not until recently that I learned of the very negative concerns associated with it. When l was photographed making that gesture three years ago, I thought it was part of a comedy act and did not know that it could be in any way offensive or harmful,” Parker said in the statement.

“Since I have been made aware of the seriousness of this gesture, I will certainly never repeat the gesture and sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding or harm relating to my actions,” he continued. “Hopefully this incident will serve to educate others that we need to be more aware that things that may seem innocuous can actually have a history of hate and hurt."

Parker isn’t the first professional athlete to be scrutinized for performing the quenelle. On Saturday, French soccer player Nicolas Anelka drew criticism after he used the gesture while celebrating a goal. Anelka will be suspended for at least five games over the incident, the Daily Mail reported.