Friday, 8 Dec 2023 - 25 of Kislev, 5784

Antisemitism in football must be met with zero tolerance

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By Robert Singer

The recent arrest of more than 150 football fans who chanted anti-Semitic slogans on their way to a match in the Netherlands is certainly a welcome development.

There needs to be zero tolerance shown to anyone who espouses prejudice or racism, and for far too long football fans have existed in an alternative reality whereby hate is tolerated and even ignored by law enforcement agencies across Europe.

However, the incident amply demonstrates that Antisemitism remains the last socially accepted hatred in sports.

In almost every European league, one club has a reputation as being “Jewish”, which opens themselves up to all manner of hate.

While some have argued that this is less about Jews and more about the long-held identities of certain clubs and the intense rivalries between teams, chants like “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas” shows that Antisemitism is front and center.

Especially in a country where, according to a survey in January by the Claims Conference, 23 percent of adults under 40 believe the Holocaust is a myth or the number of Jews killed has been greatly exaggerated, chants about the murder of Jews is especially disturbing and dangerous.

This is why the latest anti-Semitic incident in the Netherlands demands immediate and decisive action. We must demand that The Royal Dutch Football Association and Dutch authorities to take immediate, stringent and decisive measures to eradicate this despicable behavior.

My experience in fighting antisemitism and racism in sports, especially football, has taught me that the only way to eradicate Antisemitism is through forceful action on all levels, ownership, clubs, players, fans and law enforcement.

We, as a society, must uphold the values of sports as a platform for tolerance, inclusion, and respect, and not allow division and hatred to take hold. It is high time that we take a strong stand against this abhorrent behavior and send a clear message that such acts will not be tolerated in any form, in any arena.

A number of years ago as the former CEO of the World Jewish Congress, we launched the international Pitch for Hope competition, the first stage of a three-pronged joint initiative on combating the widespread phenomenon of racism, xenophobia, discrimination, and anti-Semitism in sports, under the banner Red Card for Hate.

We reached out to and partnered with potential participants representing institutions working toward coexistence, including Jewish and Muslim organizations, as well as leading educational institutes calling on young people from around the world to submit proposals for a unique and creative project to harness the spirit of comradery in sports to build bridges between people of all backgrounds, faiths, and walks of life.

This is what we can and should be doing as NGOs. We should be reaching directly the demographics who go to football matches to impress on them a greater understanding of the power of words, and how chants with hateful meaning are not just part of an intense football rivalry.

In fact, we seek to go further, and ensure that football in particular and sports in general, move from a force for divisiveness to a force for good.

At the Center for Jewish Impact, we place a large emphasis on sports as a tool that can be harnessed to promote positive values such as tolerance and peacebuilding. Sports has shown countless times that it can be universal language which brings people together, irrespective of their origins, background, religious beliefs, or socio-economic standing.

At the same time, all too often we see sports as a hotbed for hate speech and racist slurs. This requires working with teams and youth to educate for tolerance and fighting xenophobia and all types of hate.

We also require buy-in from the club hierarchy to eradicate any form of hate from their fanbase and decision-makers and opinion-shapers to make it clear that Antisemitism and any form of racism and bigotry will meet the same standards of hate speech were they not sang from the terraces or on the way to a match.

For this, education is the key. Through various channels there needs to be a drastic improvement in education about the Holocaust and the Jewish People.

Football must not be an outlier, because if there remains the last remaining socially acceptable space for hate, it will never cease to exist.

The types of chants against Jews heard regularly every weekend across the European continent must end, and it will only end when all stakeholders send a very clear message that this must end.

If this happens, Antisemitism and other forms of hate will be kicked out of football once and for all.

The author is chairman of the Center for Jewish Impact and formerly CEO of the World Jewish Congress.


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