Anti-Semitism & Hate Defy Logic in the Premier League

Benayoun playing for West Ham United.

After this article was published on GTJ, DC Sports Beat approached Jon for an interview.  You can listen to his interview here.

In the past few weeks, the illogical nature of anti-Semitism was put on full display in two separate incidents in which fans of the Tottenham Hotspurs were the recipients of mindless hatred.  Why was Tottenham targeted?  It’s not just because they have a long history of Jewish ownership, but that they are also extremely close to the orthodox community in London. The history of anti-Semitism against the Hotspurs is a long one; it begins with other teams calling them the “Yids” as a derogatory term to insult their supporters.  In response, Tottenham fans banded together to turn an insult into a positive by calling themselves the “Yid Army.”  Other groups, with either no association with the club or who are Jewish but fans of rival clubs, feel adopting this word just eggs on other racist fans.

 To summarize the two incidents:

  • In Italy, fans of the Lazio team recently stabbed two Tottenham fans.  The team has been fined in the past for its fans’ anti-Semitic actions according to NBC sports, and has a long history of racist behavior.
  • At a recent game between West Ham United and the Tottenham Hotspurs, West Ham fans were cheering for Hitler, complimenting the Lazio club on the recent stabbing, and making other anti-Semitic remarks.

The Lazio club is known for these types of incidents, but it’s not surprising that an Italian club- where many supporters idolize Mussolini- would hate Jews. The events at the recent English Premier League game are both troubling and devoid of any logic.  Initially, these news stories would lead someone to believe that anti-Semitism is making a reoccurrence to a dark age in soccer when Jews were constantly in the bull’s eye of the hatred of some clubs.  However, at least one author would say it never left.  On top of the obvious reason that anti-Semitism, along with all types of racism in this world, is never acceptable, the other reasons below show the ridiculousness of these events:

  • One of the starters of West Ham is a well respected Israeli (and Jew) named  Yossi Benayoun. The West Ham fans are basically insulting one of their own in their mindless hatred.  Benayoun was obviously dismayed by the recent chants.  Also, one of their owners, David Gold, is Jewish. To the club’s credit, they are promising to ban for life any individual they can find who was involved with the chant.
  • Two of the other biggest clubs in the league, Manchester United (Malcolm Glazer) and Chelsea (Roman Abramovich), have major owners who are Jewish.
  • Why on earth would the fans of any London team ever cheer for Hitler?  This would be like the NY Giants cheering Al-Qaeda against the Redskins.

While the major sports in the US have their own moments of absurdity ranging from Eagles fans booing Santa Claus to rare tragic violence at baseball games, these are generally instances of just bad apples. The hive-mind where racism is accepted and on full display in the US sporting world doesn’t exist.  Even when Joel Ward, a forward for the Washington Capitals, was sent a sizable number of racist tweets from Boston Bruin fans, it was immediately condemned across the NHL and in no way was it an organized event.  The closest thing we have in the US has been the controversy over Ole Miss, much of it brilliantly documented in an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about football, racism, and integration in the 1960s.  In the past, the mascot (now retired) was a confederate soldier and they played Dixie at official school functions (a medley that included Dixie was discounted in 2009).

Sports can provide the opportunity for sheer unexpected excitement and gut punches.  It can also bring out the best in humanity.  Hopefully, shining a bright light on this awful chapter in European soccer allows it to solve its problems of the past and return the focus to a sport that so much of the world loves.