The Pervasive Antisemitism in Dutch Soccer Stadiums
“My father served with the commandos, my mother was with the SS. Together they burned Jews, because Jews burn best.”
This is the text of one of the classic antisemitic songs chanted on Dutch soccer fields.
Antisemitism in soccer is not limited to the Netherlands. The problem at London’s Chelsea soccer club is so persistent that the club has announced a campaign against antisemitism. But what is happening in the Netherlands is far worse because it is long-lasting, and has spread widely among soccer fans and entered the public domain.
The problem began with a group of fanatic non-Jewish supporters of the major Amsterdam soccer club, Ajax. They started to call themselves “Jews.” As a reaction, fans of competing clubs started to use antisemitic slogans against them. Ajax has no specific relationship with the Jewish community, and is not owned by Jews. Decades ago, Ajax had two international players who each had a Jewish father. It has also had a chairman or two who were Jewish, but this does not add up to much of a Jewish character or image.
In its 1999-2000 Annual Report, Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute of Anti-Semitism and Racism had already noted: “Anti-Semitic slurs have long become the norm at football matches in the Netherlands. Hissing, slogans, and chants such as ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the Gas’ are often heard during games.”
At the end of January of this year, Ajax played in Rotterdam against its local nemesis, Feyenoord. When the bus with the Ajax players arrived at the Rotterdam stadium, five Feyenoord supporters shouted antisemitic slogans. In a rather rare occurrence, the police identified them — and they were each fined 500 Euros.
These antisemitic outbursts among soccer fans occur also elsewhere. On that same date in January, in the center of Leeuwarden — a provincial capital — fans of two other Dutch football clubs publicly chanted the song about the burning of Jews. One supporter posted it on social media, and received positive reactions from his followers. There was not a single negative reaction to his Facebook post. It has since been removed.
This pervasive soccer antisemitism is the result of tolerance for expressions of extreme racial hate — including antisemitism — in Dutch society. It manifests itself in many ways. As far back as 2004, the director of the CIDI organization, which fights antisemitism, said that it was futile to lodge complaints with the authorities. He remarked that he had even appealed to the courts concerning extreme expressions of antisemitism, which prosecutors did not want to deal with.
Dutch officials have also tried to whitewash the problem, giving a substantially lower number of hooligans than there are in reality.
In 2011, the late Uri Coronel — the then-chairman of Ajax, and a Jew — tried to convince the fans of his club to refrain from using the nickname “Jews.” His efforts had no result. Coronel added that he once entered the Feyenoord stadium between a double lineup of youngsters who gave the Heil Hitler salute.
As the antisemitic hate chants against Jews were regularly heard by tens of thousands of spectators in Dutch stadiums, they spread to other targets. They have also spread into the public domain, including large public rallies.
Soccer antisemitism has now been fully integrated into the wider “culture” of Dutch antisemitism. The head of the Dutch rabbinate, Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, said that when something happens in Israel “I am shouted at in the street, ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.’”
Jacobs also tells the story of once entering a train together with a non-Jewish psychologist. “It was full of Feyenoord supporters who sang ‘Jews to the gas.’”
The extreme Dutch antisemitic slogans in soccer are a typical example of how hate mongering can freely develop in the Netherlands, despite its reputation as a tolerant country.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank.