Dutch Soccer Team Inadvertently Appropriates Jewish Image

CK gave a mention of these guys in a post back in January. Now the NY Times has picked it up for a full-fledged story:

Just minutes before a high-stakes soccer game not long ago between this city’s home team, Ajax, and their rivals from the southern city of Eindhoven, a chant built to a roar in the hall packed with supporters where they were serving plastic pint cups of Dutch beer.
“Jews, Jews, Jews!” thousands of voices cried.
Outside, souvenir stalls sold Israeli flags or flags with the Ajax logo, the head of the fabled Greek warrior, emblazoned inside the star of David. Fans arrived with hats, jackets and scarves embroidered with Hebrew writing. Until recently, the team’s official Web site even featured the ringing tones of Hava Nagila and other Jewish songs that could be downloaded into fans’ mobile phones.
Few, if any, of these people are Jewish.

Read on…

17 thoughts on “Dutch Soccer Team Inadvertently Appropriates Jewish Image

  1. Kind of like how teams in the U.S. use Native American icons/names/imagery?
    Classic. Root for the Home Team. Everybody loves an underdog, i.e. an annihilated group of ancients…

  2. What the hell are you talking about???
    THis is beautiful….
    Traditionally, Ajax had a group of Jewish owners and is from Amsterdam, a Jewish city. This led to the nickname of “the Jewish team”. It is great! Ajax and the Jews have had an illustrious history. Ajax fans wave Israeli flags at their games, a phenomenon we rarely see in the anti-semetic europe.
    Ajax fans face off anti-semetism through this tradition!
    YALLA JUDEN!!!!!

  3. “Traditionally, Ajax had a group of Jewish owners and is from Amsterdam, a Jewish city.”
    Then what happened?

  4. Tottenham Hotspur fans refer to themselves as “Yids”.
    This phenomenon of Jewish sports mascots is actually fairly widespread in Europe.
    Obviously it’s not perfectly analogous to the use of Native American iconography in the U.S. but the comparison is provocative.

  5. My dissertation advisor is publishing an article on the Tottenham Spurs / “Yids” soon. I wouldn’t say that the phenomenon is THAT widespread. The stuff that we are seeing with Ajax and Tottenham today is also a relatively recent development – 1970s. These clubs were long regarded as “Jewish” but fans waving Israeli flags and opposing fans’ hissing to imitate gas chambers is a phenomenon of the last 3 decades.
    Is it good for the Jews? I am not sure.

  6. habibi: The time frame to bring up makes sense to me…the 70’s in Holland were a time when national historians succesfully white-washed Dutch complicty in the Holocaust and the extent of the ‘resistance’ to Nazi occupation. The glorification of the ‘Ajax Jews’ fits in with the historical revisionism.
    I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the Jews but it does provide an interesting window on the relationship between philo- and anti-semitism.

  7. ughhhh…well, a the very least, it’s for a totally different reason than what we feared had the crowd shouting “Jews, Jews, Jews.” If Zionism “works,” to be clumsy, in the future people should have an image (not a negative stereotype) of Israelis the way we now have an image of the Chinese, the Scandinavians or the English.
    Thing is, there is no football team called “the Frogs,” “the Krauts,” “the Limeys,” etc.. The only cultures that get their names used are former subject cultures.

  8. This phenomenon is detailed at length in Franklin Foer’s book “How Soccer Explains the World.” Highly recommended. it’s not so much a sports book as it is a book about geopolitics.

  9. Last of the Jewish Niggers: Good point, but how do you explain that the phenomenon seems to have started in Tottenham (at least based on what I understood from my professor’s article)?
    And why are you so hard on the Dutch? I think they also have some critical voices who resisted that project – I know that is true for some recent historiography. There’s a guy called Guus Meershoek who has an article in Berenbaum and Peck’s THE HOLOCAUST AND HISTORY (1998) for example.
    Maybe you guys are right about the comparison to the use of Native Americans as mascots for sports teams in the US. But the level of identification and performance that we see with Ajax and Tottenham seems to me on a different level. Sure, people will do the tomahawk chop, but I don’t see Braves or Indians opponents’ fans reenacting Wounded Knee. Maybe I haven’t been to enough ballgames.

  10. Just one more point before I shut up.
    Who wrote the headline for this thing? I just have trouble with the word “inadvertently” – seems like the Ajax fans are pretty deliberate about their appropriation and performance of an imagined Jewish identity (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that!).

  11. There are a number of articles and even, gasp, weblog entries dealign with this matter. Take a look – just do a http://www.google.com search for Ajax Jewish Soccer and, well, you’ll see. — See below, for instance.
    By the way, once Amsterdam was such a “Jewish city” in the same sense as New York was [and perhaps still is] that it acquired the nickname that it still has in certain quarters – “Mokum” – which linguists will recognize as a variant on the Hebrew “Makom,” or “place.” And the sobriquet of “Mokum” for Amsterdam was used equally by non-Jews as Jews. My sense is that some non-Jews don’t recognize the Jewish roots of the term, just as most folks in the UK and elsewhere don’t recognize British fish ‘n chips for what it is, a traditional dish of Sephardi Jews who had migrated into England …
    Soccer team tries to shed Jewish image
    Filed under: Jewlicious— Posted by ck @ 8:24 pm
    So you’re at a soccer (or football) stadium watching a game. Suddenly the fans of one team unfurl a giant flag of Israel and you note that many of them are sporting Stars of David. Where might this be at? Jerusalem? Haifa? Tel Aviv? No. This is happening in Amsterdam, at a game of Dutch soccer superstars, Ajax. Ajax is one of the Netherlands leading soccer teams, having won 27 national championships and 25 international tournaments.
    Somewhere along the line, probably in the 60s when a few Ajax players were Jewish, they acquired the nickname the Ajax Jews. Their fans wear what they call Ajax stars (Magen Davids), they wave Israeli flags and are known to chant “Jews, Jews” during soccer games. The opposing side fans however, reply with chants that sound blood curdlingly anti-Semitic. For instance, this chant by Feyenoord fans is typical:
    Sssssssssssssssssssssss sss… (the hissing sound of gas)
    We’re hunting the Jews!
    There is the Ajax train to Auschwitz!
    Sieg! Sieg! Sieg! (German for ‘victory’, yelled while performing the Hitler’s Salute)
    It seems to be all in good, albeit really wierd Dutch fun. See, few of Ajax’s oponnents are actually anti-Semitic, and in the good Calvinist tradition of the Dutch, intent is what matters, not actions or words. However, the management of Ajax seem to have had enough of their association with the chosen people and the anti-Semitic chants.
    Club chairman John Jaakke stated:
    Ajax is being presented as a Jewish club and some of our supporters have taken to calling themselves Jews as an honorary nickname … I want to state for the record that Ajax wants to shed this image and will do what is necessary to achieve this. I am sure our supporters have no anti-Semitic feelings … However, in a tense society such as we live in today, it can stir such feelings in others
    The Dutch are so strange.
    The URI to TrackBack this entry is: http://www.jewlicious.com/wp-t
    Thank you for bringing this weird, yet very interesting, story to us.
    Comment by matityahu — 1/14/2005 @ 1:39 am
    This is not impressive. Sweeping dirt beneath the rug doesn’t help anyone.
    Comment by Jack — 1/14/2005 @ 1:46 am
    Ain’t just the Dutch. Fans of (English premier league team) Tottenham Hotspur are called “Yiddos” because so many of the fans are Jewish.
    Hell even student’s of UCT (my alma mater) are still called “Ikeys” because of the large proportion of Jewish students there in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. The rugby team is specifically called the Ikey Tigers.
    Comment by Footie — 1/14/2005 @ 4:00 am
    UCT being the University of Cape Town in South Africa that is…
    Comment by Footie — 1/14/2005 @ 4:00 am
    Too bad the last line in this article has to be ‘the Dutch are so strange’
    I am dutch and believe me when I say that the dutch jewish community is divided over this initiative.
    Besides the article doesn’t include all details on how Ajax got their name as being a ‘jewish’ team, for one it surely didn’t start in the sixties….it’s too bad people start to judge the book by it’s cover
    Comment by dutchgirl — 1/14/2005 @ 9:32 am
    Hey Dutchgirl. I didn’t mean to disparage the fine, fine people of Holland. 2 of the coolest guys I know are Dutch (Shout out to Philip Van P. and Arnold B. wherever the hell you guys are at) and you make Ottawa bloom every year with all those beautiful tulips. As for the whole Ajax thing, it’s kind of funny and I read like a whole mess of articles before posting that story. If you have better info on how Ajax got to be the Jewish team, do let me know. My understanding is that Ajax opponents tried to disparage the team by calling them Jews and the Ajax fans then adopted the designation as a badge of pride.
    So to recap, Ajax seems like a very cool team, the Netheralnds is an awesome country, the Dutch are an interesting people, Dutch Jews rock and when I say something is strange, that means it’s a good thing because I myself am so darn friggin strange, as anyone who knows me would attest. So am I forgiven Dutch girl? By the way, I know Amsterdam has plenty of Jews, but what about the Hague? Just curious.
    Comment by ck — 1/14/2005 @ 9:42 am
    Wow, this has become a Dutch love fest.
    It’s nice to have Dutch and South African readers here!
    Comment by T_M — 1/14/2005 @ 12:14 pm

    Here is another – the source is http://www.peaktalk.com/archiv

    Monday, June 16, 2003
    This is not really a new story, but during my trip I picked up a copy of Joods Journaal (Jewish Journal) a glossy Dutch magazine focusing on Jewish culture and current affairs in The Netherlands. In it I found a story about Ajax Amsterdam, the Dutch capital’s leading soccer team, its Jewish heritage and the way in which that heritage is increasingly abused and used by both the soccer club’s opponents and supporters.
    For my North American audience, soccer is the number one sport in Europe (for Americans: compare it to baseball and for Canadians: think hockey) and Ajax is one of Europe’s and probably one of the world’s most renowned and successful soccer teams. The kind of soccer team that has transcended everything earthly and become a myth, like Manchester United, AC Milan or Real Madrid. It has also produced some of the world’s best soccer players (even non-soccer fans would now about Johan Cruyff), is known for its creative way of playing the game and its phenomenal history and tradition. As anywhere else in Europe, soccer in The Netherlands has been marred by violence and disturbances perpetrated by hardcore hooligans. Most Dutch clubs have in addition to their regular supporters their own group of hardcore fans, most of who are not exactly known for being well behaved or well mannered. Whenever a match takes place a huge police turnout is required to separate the supporters of the opposing sides, a battle between violent supporters of Ajax and Feyenoord (another major Dutch side), left one fan dead and many wounded only a few years ago. Hate has become a part of the clash of supporters and while a lot of it has a mildly condescending undertone (teams from the eastern part of the country are always qualified as “farmers”); Ajax and its supporters are the subject of anti-Semite rants, slogans and banners. I will spare you the details but the chants vented against the players and supporters from Amsterdam center around the Second World War, genocide and the current state of affairs in Israel.
    You probably wonder why. The background to Ajax’ Jewishness is probably rooted in the fact that the club is from Amsterdam – called Mokum in Yiddish, meaning “city” or “place” – the home of the majority of Dutch Jews and the center of Jewish culture in The Netherlands. The club has had two high profile Jewish chairmen, Jaap van Praag who led the club to stardom in the 1960s and 1970s and his son Michael van Praag who performed a similar feat in the 1990s by returning the club to its past glory following a period of mediocre results during the 1980s. The name “van Praag” you probably noticed, translates into “From Prague” underlining the fact that Amsterdam was throughout the centuries a sanctuary for persecuted Jews from all over Europe. Anyway, in the days before TV-rights, IPOs and worldwide merchandising revenue, professional soccer clubs were to a large extent reliant on wealthy individuals and Ajax was often helped by Jewish businessmen such as Maup Caransa and Jaap Kroonenberg. And of course, some of its legendary stars were Jewish: Sjaak Swart and Bennie Muller who where part of the famous team in the 1960s and early 1970s to name a few. The perception therefore existed that Ajax was a Jewish club and although the club is not based on race or religion or anything like it, it so happened to be branded as a Jewish entity.
    Many attempts have been made over the past few years to deal with the unpleasant phenomenon of anti-Semite expressions during soccer matches, notably by Michael van Praag as well as Dutch public prosecutors using anti-discrimination and anti-hate laws. It is however next to impossible to bring to justice a few thousand supporters in a stadium filled with fifty thousand people over a song about gas and Hamas. To the Van Praags it has always been devastating to enter their team’s stadium in Amsterdam (a city from which over 100,000 Jews were deported never to return home) and hear this vile and mean spirited rhetoric as they lost a significant number of family members during the Second World War. Jaap van Praag, who died in 1987, had to hideout for a number of years and barely survived this dark chapter in the world’s history. What was equally disturbing to them is the response of the hardcore Ajax supporters as they have taken on the Jewishness of the club as their very identity by calling themselves Jews, carrying Israeli flags and, to the ultimate horror of holocaust survivors, tattooing the Magen David on their arms or other body parts. The guys that do this are a small but very fanatical group, yet, they are an integral part of the Ajax culture so it has always been very hard for the club’s management to turn its back on these faithful supporters by excluding them from the club, its matches or other activities.
    The net of this is that whenever Ajax plays you will see large Israeli flags and other Jewish symbols making the team incredibly popular in Israel where many appear to believe that the supporters of Ajax are well informed about the state of Israel, Zionism and the history of the Jews. Nothing could be further from the truth; very few of these soccer fans realize what they are doing or indeed have any knowledge about Israel and its history. As Michael van Praag would say, they are as Jewish as I am Chinese. So, a very distasteful part of what is otherwise a great Dutch soccer culture has become an integral part of Ajax’ existence as a soccer club and its image is now intertwined with Israel and Jewish traditions in an unintended way. To Israelis this may be a great thing but to Dutch Jews it is anything but. Here’s what former Ajax player Bennie Muller had to say about it:
    “Sometimes when I’m sitting in the stadium and I hear those crazy people shouting ‘We are super-Jews’ and ‘Jews are champions,’ it’s so bad that I just walk off and go home,” he says. About 200 members of Muller’s extended family died in the Holocaust and he vividly remembers the day his mother was taken away. “I had two brothers and two sisters. All of us children were crying. The German said, ‘Oh, let’s leave them,’ but the Dutch Nazis said no. My mother had 11 brothers and sisters.” His mother survived, but her relatives were killed. “Older people know what happened in the war. But these fans, they don’t know. I wish they would stop, but they won’t. I talk a lot with Israelis here. They all seem to like it. They laugh about it. But for the Jewish people in Amsterdam it’s so disgusting, it’s unbelievable,” says Muller.
    Muller’s sentiments are echoed here, no doubt about it. But in the days of Hamas, al-Qaeda, arm-twisting Sharon into a roadmap and, yes, Gretta Duisenberg I can imagine that many Israelis consider it to be encouraging to see a massive outpour of support for Israel in a Western European city even though it has been taken out of its context by those who express it. As discussed earlier here, the history of the relationship between Jews, Israel and The Netherlands is an interesting one with many great moments, but it is also one filled with instances of shame, sadness and deep regret. The way some Dutch treat the soccer team that hails from Mokum and the way in which some Mokummers respond is now a bizarre concoction of pro-Israel sentiments and anti-Semitism that is of benefit to no one.
    Posted by Pieter Dorsman at 01:26 PM | TrackBack (4)

  13. “Sssssssssssssssssssss ss sss… (the hissing sound of gas)
    We’re hunting the Jews!
    There is the Ajax train to Auschwitz!
    Sieg! Sieg! Sieg! (German for ‘victory’, yelled while performing the Hitler’s Salute)”
    Not so much different from “Death to Arabs” chants, eh? What are you so upset about?

  14. What about the issue that really matters – Israel still has a chance of making the World Cup, after tieing Ireland 1:1 and France 1:1. And who scored the equalizers? Abbas Suan (go Bnei Sakhnin!) and Walid Badir. Let’s have some coverage.

  15. all that fuss between Ajax and Feyenoord is stupid bullshit
    i am a feyenoord fan, and i’m from Rotterdam.
    our fans chant: ‘hamas…hamas..all the jews on gas’
    i think it’s dumb all of it, and your right about that they don’t know anything of what
    happened in WW2, or perhaps maybe they do…but are incapable of imagening what a big tragedy it has been, or just don’t care.
    i have run along now

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