Anti-Semitism is a recurrent problem in the world of soccer. Nowhere else, however, is the origin of wide-spread anti-Semitic chants in stadiums as bizarre as in the Netherlands.
Earlier this month, anti-Semitic slogans were the subject of a court case brought by BAN, an organization fighting anti-Semitism, against ADO. In March, this top league club from The Hague won a game against Ajax from Amsterdam. During the match ADO supporters frequently chanted “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the Gas” and “Horrible Cancer Jews.”
At a party after ADO’s victory, fans and two players sang in the presence of the trainer, “We are going to chase Jews.” The judge decided that ADO’s management would be held responsible to prevent repetition of similar outbursts at future games and if it could not, management should stop the match.
However, the Jews at whom ADO supporters aimed were not Jews at all. They were the fanatic fans of Ajax who in a distant past had started to refer to themselves as “Jews.” These supporters accompanied their team with Israeli flags and Stars of David to the stadiums. Some fans even had tattoos of the Star of David. There was a time that when Ajax scored a goal, their fans would sing the Israeli song Hava Nagila.
Ajax has had a few Jewish board members and it has a small number of non-violent Jewish supporters. They make up perhaps 1% of those present at home games. A number of them initially viewed the nickname and its accompanying phenomena favorably not realizing what its long-term consequences would be.
Fanatic supporters of other soccer teams, principally from the big cities of Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, considered the Ajax nickname a provocation and started with the hate chants. Initially these were anti-Semitic in nature but not in context, as they were aimed at non-Jews. “Bomb Rotterdam” retorted the Ajax fans when they played against local team Feyenoord there. They were referring to the murderous bombardments of the town during the German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940.
Anti-Semitic songs gradually spread in other directions. In October 2004, Referee Rene Temmink ended a game between ADO and the PSV of Eindhoven. There had been lengthy shouts of “Hamas, Hamas, Temmink to the Gas.” It was the first time in Europe that a top league game was halted midway due to hate chants.
Soccer fans gradually started to sing the anti-Semitic songs elsewhere also aiming at real Jews. Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs — chief rabbi of the Dutch interprovincial rabbinate — said that he, together with a non-Jewish psychologist, once entered a train full of Feyenoord supporters. When these fans saw them, they started to chant: “Jews to the gas.” Jacobs said that he got the feeling that the whole train of “ordinary Dutchmen” was against them.
The Rabbi added, “The psychologist shrank from fear. It seemed to me that signs of anxiety wouldn’t help us very much, thus I feigned that I was indifferent to it as a sign of strength. One may consider this incident as an act of hooliganism, yet if one of these idiots had attacked us, many more would have probably followed him.”
Nowadays at anti-Israel demonstrations in The Netherlands, “Hamas Hamas, Jews to the gas” is also heard, mainly shouted by Muslims. Even though these kinds of outbursts are prohibited by law, offenders are rarely punished. In one such demonstration in January 2009, two parliamentarians from the left-wing Socialist party participated. They claimed afterwards that they hadn’t heard the shouts. There are also reports that Muslim students at various Dutch schools have sung the same hate song to insult Jewish students.
In recent years, Dutch authorities have started to understand that this proliferation of hate songs must be stopped. In May, Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan requested after Ajax became league champions that its fans stop using the nickname “Jews.” He observed: “It is a matter of changing this behavior, which may take 10 years.”
There is a special lesson in the development of soccer related anti-Semitism to be learned by the small Jewish community in the Netherlands. It has been demonstrated once again that Jews must anticipate problems long before they spread into society at large. This issue is yet one more illustration that Jews have to be on guard far more than other groups in Western societies.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld has published 20 books. Several of these address European anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism