Monday, March 28, 2005

Say What?!?

From the NY Times
March 28, 2005

A Dutch Soccer Riddle: Jewish Regalia Without Jews

AMSTERDAM - Just minutes before a high-stakes soccer game not long ago between this city's home team, Ajax, and their rivals from the southern city of Eindhoven, a chant built to a roar in the hall packed with supporters where they were serving plastic pint cups of Dutch beer.

"Jews, Jews, Jews!" thousands of voices cried.

Outside, souvenir stalls sold Israeli flags or flags with the Ajax logo, the head of the fabled Greek warrior, emblazoned inside the star of David. Fans arrived with hats, jackets and scarves embroidered with Hebrew writing. Until recently, the team's official Web site even featured the ringing tones of Hava Nagila and other Jewish songs that could be downloaded into fans' mobile phones.

Few, if any, of these people are Jewish.

"About thirty years ago, the other teams' supporters started calling us Jews because there was a history of Jews in Ajax," explained Fred Harris, a stocky man with brush-cut hair and a thick gold chain around his neck, "so we took it up as a point of pride and now it has become our identity."

For years, the team's management supported that unique identity. But over time what seemed to many people like a harmless - if peculiar - custom has taken on a more sinister tone. Fans of Ajax's biggest rivals began giving the Nazis' signature straight-arm salute or chanting "Hamas, Hamas!" to provoke Ajax supporters. Ajax games have been marred by shouts of "Jews to the gas!" or simply hissing to simulate the sound of gas escaping.

The most disturbing displays have come during games against teams from The Hague or Amsterdam's greatest rival, Rotterdam. But even Eindhoven fans get into the act: not long after the game started, a chant arose from the corner section of the city's stadium reserved for fans of the opposing team.

"Everyone who's not jumping is a Jew!" the crowd cried over and over again as thousands of people in the section jumped up and down.

Ajax games have become so charged with such anti-Semitic displays that many of the team's Jewish fans now avoid the games altogether. The offensive behavior is not one-sided: during a game against a German team late last year, a group of Ajax supporters displayed a banner that read "Jews take revenge for '40-'45," a reference to the Holocaust. [more...]

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