Gaza crisis: Authorities see Benzema as "French only on paper" - Former presidential candidate
SHAH ALAM - Karim Benzema has hit back at France's Interior Minister after he accused the French football star, who plays for Saudi league's Al-Ittihad, of links to the Muslim Brotherhood Islamist group.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin made the accusations after the reigning Ballon d'Or winner and former Real Madrid forward posted a message on social media about the conflict between Israel and Palestinian fighters, Hamas.
"All our prayers are for the inhabitants of Gaza who are once again victims of these unjust bombings, which spare no women or children," Benzema wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
On Oct 7, Hamas launched shock raids into Israel, seizing about 200 hostages.
Israel has since launched wave after wave of retaliatory air strikes, killing more than 3,000 Palestinians in Gaza.
Darmanin, speaking on the CNews Channel, alleged that Benzema has a notorious link with the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Muslim Islamist group with its origins in Egypt that Cairo now bans.
"This is false! Karim Benzema has never had the slightest relationship with this organisation," Benzema's layer, Hugues Vigier, reportedly said in a statement.
He said that Benzema was expressing natural compassion for what many today describe as war crimes being committed in Gaza.
The lawyer added that he was planning to file a complaint against Darmanin for his comments.
A source close to Darmanin doubled down on the minister's comments, slamming Benzema over an alleged "drift" towards a tougher interpretation of Islam over the last few years.
"We are once again witnessing an intolerable exploitation of Karim Benzema and the'symbolic figure' that we like to make him," his lawyer Vigier said.
Benzema, 35, who was born in France to parents of Algerian origin, has been one of the standout French stars of the last decade.
He joined the Saudi club on a hugely lucrative three-year deal this year after 14 seasons with Real Madrid, where he lifted five Champions League titles, four La Liga titles, and three Copa del Rey.
But after a stellar 2021–22 season when he led Real to Champions League glory and was rewarded with the Ballon d'Or for the world's best player, he was troubled by injuries that ruled him out of France's World Cup campaign in Qatar last year.
Darmanin, 41, has carved out a reputation as a hardliner in the mould of his political mentor, ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, and makes no secret of his own presidential ambitions.
French hard-left figurehead and three-time presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon weighed in on the controversy to back Benzema while admitting: "I don't know you, and I don't know anything about football.
"The government and its friends have chosen to demonise you," he said, accusing the authorities of seeing Benzema as "French only on paper".
Benzema is not the only Muslim football star to enter the debate, with Liverpool and Egypt player Mohamed Salah calling for humanitarian aid to be allowed into Gaza and an end to "massacres."
This situation is reminiscent of former Arsenal midfielder Mesut Özil's retirement from international football due to backlash over his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in May.
According to media reports, Özil faced criticism for his actions, emphasising it was about respect, not politics, and he accused the German Football Federation (DFB) of racial discrimination.
Özil decided to retire from international play due to perceived racism and disrespect.
Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness criticised Özil's performance and accused him of hiding behind the controversy.
The anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out condemned the treatment Özil received and called for reflection on how football treats mixed-race players.
Two prominent footballers are facing backlash for their actions and comments, leading to significant controversies.