Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Tolerating anti-Semitism, but not Jewishness 

What's wrong with some Jewish pride, even if you're not a Jew?

One would have thought not much, except now it seems if you live in the "enlightened" and "tolerant" Europe.

When I was younger and used to follow European soccer leagues, Ajax Amsterdam was one of my favorite teams. For some unknown reason, this team has over the past few decades become associated with Jews, even though its management, players and supporter base don't seem to have any higher proportion of Dutch Jews among them than any other Dutch team. Over time, both the team and its supporters have actually taken with pride to the whole thing, adopting both the name as well as the Jewish regalia (Star of David, the Israeli flag) as part of the club's color.

As the
"New York Times" writes, "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."

Here's what happened next:

"[The club's president] Mr. Jaakke said the trend had bothered the club's management for the past 10 years, and many Jewish supporters have complained that it makes them uncomfortable. Finally, last year, during a period of national debate about the language being used in soccer stadiums, the board decided to take the opportunity to address the issue. One of the main catalysts for that debate was not anti-Semitic chants, but chants calling the well-known girlfriend of an Ajax player a prostitute.

"Mr. Jaakke called a meeting with representatives of the club's two main supporters' associations last year to communicate the management's concerns. Mr. Coronel, the son of Holocaust survivors, spoke to them about how hurtful the language was to Jews. Finally, in his New Year's speech, Mr. Jaakke expressed the management's desire that fans drop their pretended Jewish identity.

" 'Not only Jews are bothered by this,' said Mr. Jaakke, 'I'm not Jewish and I hate it, too.'

"The club has asked an independent committee, headed by the Dutch foreign minister, to discuss the issue and try to come up with a strategy for ending the practice. Mr. Jaakke said there had been some suggestion that fans substitute the word 'Goden,' or gods, for 'Joden,' or Jews, and call themselves 'sons of gods,' on the logic that Ajax was a sort of god.

"Mr. Jaakke conceded that forcing the fans to change their behavior was a daunting task. 'It's difficult for the supporters because it has become part of their identity,' he said. 'Many people are walking around with Jewish stars tattooed on their bodies and they're not Jewish at all'."
While I'm glad that Mr Jaakke is disturbed by anti-Semitism even though he's not Jewish himself (European tolerance is a truly great thing), but I'm far less happy - though not really surprised - that

1) the management seemed to think that calls for gassing Jews was a tolerable level of abuse, but calling somebody a whore was really going too far;

2) when "the club has asked an independent committee, headed by the Dutch foreign minister, to discuss the issue and try to come up with a strategy for ending the practice", the practice they meant was not anti-Semitism but Jewishness; and

3) the club's ultimate solution to the problem is to surrender to thugs and hooligans and abandon an important part of its identity. After all, it's an easy way out for Ajax to jettison Jewishness, since it was not Jewish to begin with - but where does that leave the real European Jews?

(hat tip:
Dr. Judith Apter Klinghoffer)

Update: Compare and contrast with America. Just as there are some Dutch Jews who think that linking Jewishness with a football club cheapens the former, so there some activists in the United States who protest the association of sporting teams with American Indian imagery (think Redskins, Braves, etc.) as demeaning to Native Americans. Here the parallel ends. Missing are sporting fans from opposing teams chanting "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" and "It's time for Wounded Knee again."

Update II: Pieter at Peaktalk has written a long piece about it all almost two years ago - worth checking out by way of background.


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