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The Maastricht Diplomat

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Football Hooliganism & Identity Hijack; Ajax’s Jewish Persona

The vast majority of sport club fan bases have a formed identity and culture which permits them to differentiate themselves from others, adding to the entertaining dynamics when respective clubs compete against each other. Obviously, this long-spanning phenomenon also appears in the context of Dutch football and is well-defined amongst clubs such as Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven and AFC Ajax. Similar to UK clubs, the fandoms of these clubs have formed a tight-knit culture which has spiralled into football hooliganism; illustrated through all-around disruptive actions associated with hyped spectators. The fact that competing hooliganism promotes distinctly different identities is not surprising. Yet what is surprising is when a club-culture is established in a pervasive manner and which is mainly based on a pre-existing exclusive identity which is extremely distorted.

To illustrate, AFC Ajax supporters dub themselves as ‘Super Joden’ (Super Jews) and insist that the club is a Jewish club. The fans appropriate symbols and traditions, associated with the Jewish people. At AFC Ajax games, it is nearly customary to spot fans tattooed with the star of David, dubbed the ‘Ajax Star’, or Hebrew characters while carrying enormous Israeli flags. One may also overhear Hebrew-influenced slang in Dutch and chants such as ‘Hava Nagila’, ‘Jews, Jews, Jews’, “Where do Jews come from? - Israel, here far away…” . As a European Jew of Israeli descent, this is an awkward oddity to experience. Most Jewish people I have discussed the Ajax phenomenon with feel conflicted about exactly what to feel and how to react. When I attempted to address the issue on an Ajax forum, I was met with ‘shut up, Jew’ comments. Were these comments justified? Do I have a right to disapprove of this? It all boils down to two questions; where did this Ajax-Jewish association originate? Does this impact the Jewish community and inadvertently encourage discrimination alongside ignorance?

First, some history of Amsterdam and Ajax should be covered. It is widely known that, prior to World War II, Amsterdam had a vibrant Jewish community of which some members would enjoy attending nearby football matches hosted by the upcoming Ajax club. This is not because someone on the club’s staff or its players were Jewish, but rather since the stadium was adjacent to the Jewish community. Although a small minority of fans were Jewish, the frustrated fans of opposing clubs would start calling Ajax fans ‘Jews’. Hence, Ajax fans simply decided to adopt the nickname and incorporate it as an identity which still holds today. About 80% of the Jewish population of Amsterdam perished during the war, many of them Ajax fans, making it even more challenging and confusing to keep the Jewish character.

It should also be mentioned that the majority of die-hard fan associations, such as F-side, are tattooed with Jewish symbols. There is a certain sense of twisted irony in such for two reasons. First, tattooing by itself is an extreme taboo in traditional Judaism as observed in Leviticus 19:28: “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourself…”. Orthodox, Conservative and Reform authorities have established that the Jewish tradition of forbidding markings applies to the modern practice of tattooing. A large portion of the Jewish population is still uncomfortable with tattoos due to the fact that some Jewish cemetery societies will refuse to bury one adjacent to their family members if that person is tattooed. Second, the recent history of Jewish citizens under Nazi rule is characterized by the mandatory marking of the Star of David, a staple of the scarring experienc under this rule. In essence, the explicit use of tattoos featuring Jewish symbols by Ajax’s “Super Jews'' is a distasteful lack of awareness, and concerns, over the Jewish position on these markings. There certainly appears to be no concerns that such symbols are stripped of meaning and history.

It may be that Ajax’s fans pose no direct threat to how Jews are perceived as there is no explicit antisemitism involved; rather, a possible blissful ignorance. Yet, the views towards Ajax are tied to some antisemitic sentiments and tropes. A consensus in the actual Jewish community is often reached which claims that AFC Ajax’s Jewish/Israeli association permits fans of opposing clubs to openly use antisemitic remarks/chants when engaged in hooligan clashes, normalizing discrimination. Often, these remarks are connected to the Jewish Holocaust which manifests through Nazi salutes and hissing sounds resembling gas pipes. Some infamous anti-Ajax chants include: “Hamas, Hamas, All Jews to the Gas”, “My father was a commando, my mom was with the SS. Together they burned Jews, because, Jews burn best”, “It is cold, it is Bleak. Throw some Jews on the Fire - #JewsWillDieandFilthy, Dirty, Cancer Jews”. Such remarks spill over into a historical context. Recently, similar remarks were found graffitied on a Dutch memorial to Dutch resistance members combating the deportation of their fellow, albeit Jewish, countrymen.

Modern politics is not spared from football clashes. It is already high-risk to wave an Israeli flag inEurope, yet Ajax fans arguably portray said flags more than European Jews or Israelis abroad do and face political consequences. The Ajax-Feyenoord sport rivalry causes fans of the latter to respond with Palestinian flags to Ajax’s Israeli flags, often leading to physical clashes and an even further polarization and simplification of the Israel-Palestine conflict. To recap, Ajax fans have stripped the religious aspects of being a ‘Jew’ whilst enforcing a cultural-supremacy outlook with a political identity. There is a tendency for anti-Ajax sentiments online to transfer into anti-Semitism, as popular on forums which criticize Ajax.

The adoption of a self-declared ‘Yid’ identity hurts the Jewish community by promoting false notions and stereotypes about it, contributing to the growing issue of ignorance around Jews. The further association of ‘everyday-Jews’ with the conflict, and the acts of the Israeli state, gets blown out of proportion, adding to a prominent issue in European society. The inclusion of minorities in a society should include all minorities, without hijacking and twisting their identity which causes more alienation. It is highly necessary that Ajax’s “Super Jews” reflect on their traditions and evaluate the consequences which the fans do not suffer from, but European Jewry does. Ignorance always has the potential to snowball into discrimination and worse, as history shows us. The Jewish identity therefore has to be correctly represented, instead of being associated with loud Dutch fanatics.

AFC Ajax had already tried to dissociate the Jewish character amongst its fans, yet was unsuccessful. The cultural attribute for its fans is less complicated than the ‘Zwarte Piet’ debate and should be treated as such. Education and being able to understand multiple perspectives should be the foundation stones for dealing with this issue. However, addressing fans and hooligans with such tools is easier said than done and requires further dedication by the club itself.

A young Dutch generation will grow up without comprehending what Jewry is and who Jews are, partially due to this confusing ‘Super Jews’ connotation. Young Ajax fans see themselves as said Jews without actually ever having to learn what real Jews are. It is time for proper representation, which for Jews, obviously is not primarily football-related. If anti-semitism were not a modern issue, the association would not be considered offensive, just plain weird. Hearing hundreds of fans yell out ‘Jews’ only to be met by anti-semitic chants, by people that are largely ignorant rather than xenophobic, is worrying for those carrying the scars of anti-semitism and those worrying about the snowballing of ignorance.

These concerns are shared by all minorities that fear the deterioration of their identity. Across the Atlantic, the Washington Redskins had a similar ignorant nature which targeted Native-American tribes. Fans wore traditional headdresses and traditional face-paint whilst obviously naming themselves redskins. In July 2020, after it was found that the direct cultural association was deemed offensive by a majority of polls, the club’s name was changed to the Washington Football Team and promises to tackle further cultural appropriation. This example needs to be studied and applied in European football culture for the sake of inclusion and education.

In a city that has such a large Jewish history, and in which 80% of Jewish inhabitants died during World War II, Amsterdam needs to focus on this education and general multicultural knowledge as to avoid further discrimination. Currently, the counterproductive culture of Ajax’s “Superjews” is notable and must be stopped from spreading as to raise legitimate awareness.

Let’s alter the nicknames and keep sports cultures kosher.

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