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Antisemitism a 'reality' in German sports

April 22, 2021

Two-thirds of footballers have experienced antisemitism, a survey among the sportspeople of Jewish club Makkabi Germany has found. A new project aims to tackle antisemitism in sports through dialogue and education.

Fussball l Sportklub Makkabi in Frankfurt - B1-Fussballjugend
Image: Heike Lyding/epd/imago

Noam Petry plays football for Makkabi Frankfurt, the city's Jewish sports club.

Petry says he's been experiencing antisemitism as a Makkabi player since he was 10 years old. Hearing insults such as "you lousy Jew" or "you should've been gassed" has become normality for the now 17-year-old.

"I'd say it happens in about seven or eight games out of the 20 we play in a season," he tells DW.

Referees often take no action. In one case, Petry recalls, a match official even warned his Makkabi teammate that he would send him off for replying to an antisemitic insult by calling his abuser a Nazi.

"You feel helpless and humiliated, sometimes you're even scared for your safety," Petry says.

Worrying statistics

Now, a survey of 309 Makkabi Germany athletes reveals Petry's experiences are far from isolated cases.

According to the study, 39% of the Makkabi sportspeople have experienced at least one or more antisemitic incidents, with the number rising to 68% in their football department.

Among the footballers, 78% surveyed said they witnessed at least one or more antisemitic incidents involving another Makkabi sportsperson or club member. 19% said the last time they experienced an antisemitic incident in the past six months.

Alon Meyer, 46, the president of the Makkabi club network in Germany, commissioned the study because he wanted to quantify what so many members had experienced. The problem's extent, he says, is anything but surprising.

"We wanted to show this isn't something we just feel is the reality, but it is reality," he says.

Fussball l Makkabi-Vorsitzender Alon Meyer
Alon Meyer is the president of Makkabi GermanyImage: MAKKABI Deutschland e. V./dpa/picture alliance

Antisemitic incidents against Makkabi sportspeople don't just affect Jews.

In fact, the majority of Makkabi's athletes are not Jewish, but they also experience antisemitism as opponents perceive them as Jews due to them playing for Makkabi, whose crest includes a Star of David.

Meyer even recounts one incident where a player was attacked with a knife. The player returned a blow, and both parties ended up in hospital. A conversation then took place between the two players, who both happened to be of Iranian descent.

"The other player was shocked because a Makkabi player spoke Farsi, calling him an idiot and telling him he wouldn't have attacked him if he'd known he was Persian," recalls Meyer.  "'You're the idiot if you only see the Star of David on my shirt rather than the person that I am,' was the response."

Antisemitism present in German society

Sabena Donath is the head of the education department at the Central Council of Jews in Germany (ZdJ), which represents the Jewish community in the country. Speaking about the study, she says there's enough information to suggest the problem is bigger than in sports alone.

"We also have studies from the field of education which show similar tendencies," she tells DW.

While interest from society in Jewish life exists, she says some aspects of Jewish life in the present day are just not visible enough to most people in Germany.

"Not many people know, for example, that as a Jewish kid going to a Jewish school in Germany, you're used to studying behind bulletproof glass. People aren't aware of this being our reality."

Halle am Tag nach dem Anschlag
Synagogues - like this one which was attacked in Halle in 2019 - and other Jewish institutions in Germany are often guarded by policeImage: Reuters/F. Bensch

For Donath, who’s been in the role since 2013, increasing visibility for Jewish perspectives, opinions and experiences is key to battling antisemitism, with preventative work and education also playing a key role.

Education, personal meetings as solution

Now, a new educational project is aiming to counter antisemitic tendencies in sports. Zusammen1, German for "Together, we are one," is a cooperation between the Makkabi club network and the ZdJ.

As part of the project, Zusammen1 representatives offer workshops and seminars to football clubs, associations and other interested parties in a bid to boost understanding of Jewish experiences, perspectives and views, which in turn can help counter prejudices and myths about Jews in modern-day Germany.

Zusammen1 have also cooperated with the National Association for Antisemitism Research and Information (RIAS) to establish a registration point for antisemitic incidents in sports.

Maccabi Junior Games in München
More majority of Makkabi's sportspeople are not Jewish.Image: Herbert Wirtz

An expert on education and antisemitism, ZdJ’s Donath says such a project could contribute to the diversity of Jewish life in Germany becoming more visible due to the sports' importance in German society.

"We can create access for people through sports," she says.

Personal touch

Makkabi president Meyer says the project is an attempt to use the common denominator that is sports to prevent antisemitic incidents long before they even happen, with young people being one of the project's target groups.

For Noam Petry, such first-hand meetings have proven to be very effective in encountering myths about Jews in the past.

Going to a non-Jewish high school, he describes how it didn't take more than a few conversations for his fellow pupils to understand any prejudices they may have had about Jews are unfounded.

"In a country of 83 million people, you can safely assume many of them haven't come across a Jew in their lives," he says.