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Anti-Semitic incidents in football are a warning

Felix Tamsut Kommentarbild
Felix Tamsut
November 1, 2017

Recent reports about football fans using the Holocaust to insult their rivals originate from a centuries-old habit of perceiving Jews as lesser beings. This should not be accepted, says DW’s Felix Tamsut.

Deutschland Gebet in der Neuen Synagoge in Freiburg in Erinnerung an die Reichskristallnacht
Image: picture alliance/dpa/W. Rothermel

"In every generation they stand up against us to destroy us, but God almighty always saves us from them,” says one of the most famous texts of the Jewish faith, the Haggadah. It epitomizes the whole history of one of mankind's most persecuted ethnic groups, and it is read once a year when Jews around the world celebrate the holiday of Passover.

I remember questioning that phrase as a kid. Sitting at the table with my family, I asked my father — our community's Rabbi — why we were even reading it. After all, we live in modern times, we have our own country in Israel and we are mostly equal citizens elsewhere. The days in which everyone wanted us dead are over, I told him.

"It's a warning," he replied. "For centuries we have been persecuted, hated and killed. Times are better now but, while we may perceive ourselves as equal, many still don't think of us that way."

While times have indeed changed, some old habits seem to die hard. For centuries, the term "Jew” was considered the go-to term for those intending to degrade another person or a group. The idea behind it is that the Jewish people are somehow not equal to the rest of society. As we have seen, that is still the case in many social circles in western countries - Germany included.

And those perceptions are being carried into football grounds more and more often.

Not the first time

The Anne Frank stickers in Düsseldorf and Leipzig were not an isolated case of anti-Semitism raising its ugly head in Germany's football grounds. Numerous incidents have been recorded in the last two years across Germany's top four football leagues, with the common feature in all of those being the labeling of the opposition team and its fans as "Jews,” as well as the use of known World War Two chants that were originally aimed at Jews. Fans of various clubs were involved, from Borussia Dortmund to Rot-Weiß Erfurt, from Kickers Offenbach to Lübeck.

Felix Tamsut Kommentarbild
DW's Felix Tamsut

While only small groups of fans were involved and banning orders were issued in many of those cases, the sheer number of incidents show that the trend of insulting others using words associated with the Jewish community did not die down, quite the opposite in fact, and some still resort to anti-Semitism when intending to insult others.


Society needs to step up

One of the reasons this keeps on happening is the relatively forgiving approach to previous incidents. Yes, many football clubs have issued banning orders to some of the fans involved, and for the most part they also tend to issue a statement condemning the actions, but the lack of real public outcry was deafening. When the incidents did make the headlines, it was because of other factors, this time it was mostly due to the original Anne Frank stickers being criticized across the board after they appeared in Italy.

This has to change. The authorities — and indeed football clubs — can only do so much, but it's up to western societies to decry those actions and make it absolutely clear that anti-Semitic and racist incidents are not acceptable in the 21st century, neither in Germany nor elsewhere. As long as this is not the case, the Haggadah's age-old warning will keep on being relevant.