Posts Tagged ‘Shaft Among the Jews’

The other day, Mireille introduced the weird philo-semitism of Ajax Football Club.  Ajax fans, however, are not alone in appropriating Jewishness.  A number of teams worldwide identify with Judaism.  Among them are M.T.K. Hungaria and England’s Tottenham Hotspur.

There are multiple reasons a club gets tagged as “Jewish.”  MTK was founded in 1888 by Jewish businessmen.  Through the end of World War I, this held little stigma.  However, post-war nationalist politicians explicitly attacked MTK in the press, and the team was shut down in the 1940s.  Although the Communists revived the club under a series of political patrons, it still remains identified as the “Jewish” team; which may explain their poor attendance despite an impressive league record.

Rival club Ferencvaros is considered the “authentic” Hungarian side.  It’s a pretty explicit link, framed openly in the political discourse by right-wing MPs:

“Those who consider themselves proper, working-class Hungarians oppose the spirit of business conduct practised by upper-class Hungarians with foreign roots.  The upper- class supports MTK, and Fradi [Ferencvaros] supporters have always felt that they are the oppressed, ordinary children of the nation, while the Jews have secured their place in high society.”

Ferencvaros fans chant “the trains are leaving for Auschwitz,” among other things, and through the 1990s celebrated goals with Nazi salutes.  These days the club has bigger problems, having been demoted to the Hungarian second division due to financial mismanagement.  Predictably, supporters blamed the “red media” and the Jews.

Tottenham is a different animal.  The club has no particularly Jewish roots in its founding.  It earned the badge of Zion either because of the large number of Jews in the White Hart Lane neighborhood; or because of a 1970s television show.  Whichever the cause, opposing fans have long targeted Spurs supporters with chants about Hitler and gas chambers.  Obviously, the great majority of Tottenham fans are gentiles.  They have met these taunts by building the “Yid Army” identity, a strange co-optation of Jewishness if there ever was one.  Franklin Foer, whose book is the source for much of this post, relates the story of Manchester City fans chanting the following during a game against Tottenham in the 1980s:

“We’ll be running around Tottenham with our pricks hanging out tonight,

We’ll be running around Tottenham with our pricks hanging out tonight,

Singing I’ve got a foreskin, I’ve got a foreskin, I’ve got a foreskin and you ain’t

We’ve got foreskins, we’ve got foreskins, you ain’t.”

How did Spurs fans reply?  A handful went around their group identifying Jewish supporters, and then brought them together to simultaneously drop their pants and wave their dicks at the Manchester City crowd.  Statement made.

What does it mean when a largely gentile group decides to identify as Jewish?  Michael Brenner, author of Emancipation Through Muscles: Jews and Sports in Europe, notes that Spurs fans also began flying Argentine flags during and after the Falklands War.  The co-optation of Jewish identity is an attempt to build solidarity and kinship through victimhood.  Marginalization, real or perceived, adds depths to the supporters’ emotional ties to their club.  Unlike MTK, there is no historical Jewish context for Tottenham supporters to draw on.  Simply, as Brenner cites one fan saying, “Spurs supporters…really like putting two fingers up to the rest of the world.”

Judaism is useful shorthand for any number of things: defiance, group unity, or even hipness.  Witness the counterculture philo-semitism of Holland’s greatest club.  During the 1960s, it was Johann Cruyff and Ajax whose “total football” trashed traditional formations and forced players, coaches, and fans to rethink the game.  Cruyff, who was not Jewish, had a pregame ritual of eating Kosher salami and decorating his pep talks with Yiddish phrases.  The club’s Jewish physiotherapist recalled, “the players liked to be Jewish even though they weren’t,” and Cruyff himself has been spotted wearing a yarmulke in Israel.  Foer suggests a link between the cultural radicalism of Amsterdam in the 60s and the faux-Jewishness of the Ajax clubhouse.  While it is obviously impossible to prove directly, it can’t be a coincidence that the one club revolutionizing football was the one trying hardest to look like outsiders.

It’s strange watching non-Jews revel in Jewishness, probably not unlike how Chuck D must feel knowing that rap is mostly consumed by suburban white teenagers.  Fake Jewish identity gives the gentile fan something to cling to, a sense of victimhood and authenticity without the historical baggage that would actually justify those feelings.  (All the sympathy, half the Holocaust!)  There’s an old saying that a philo-semite is simply “an anti-semite who loves Jews.”  That may be a little unfair, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find some of those gentile Spurs fans voting BNP before donning their Yid Army gear for match day.

Go out and get Foer’s book for more on this and other random social insights drawn from the beautiful game.

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I would imagine by now most people are aware of my aversion to using ethnic groups as sports mascots and how deeply bewildered I am by the fact that my home town’s football team happens to be the Redskins. I’m not even going to entertain the idea that the name isn’t racist– the very fact there is a debate over if ‘it is or isn’t’ shows the invisibility and disenfranchisement of Native peoples in the United States.

Often I illustrate how offensive this name is by saying something like: “Could you imagine if it were any other minority group? People would be up-in-arms over the San Fran Chinks or the Tri-State Area Jews.”

Tickle me surprised when I find out that there is in fact a Dutch football club nicknamed the Jews. According to Ye Olde Wikipedia:

This nickname for Ajax fans dates back to before World War II, when Amsterdam was home to most of the Netherlands’ 140,000 Jews and the Ajax stadium itself was located near a Jewish neighbourhood. Most Dutch Jews were killed by the Nazis during the occupation, and today very little remains of Amsterdam’s old Jewish quarter. But the tradition at Ajax survived.

The truth of this account is still up for debate.

Sociological Images has an interesting dissection of the appropriation of Israeli political symbols by Ajax fans and this NYT article spotlights some of the more sinister anti-Semitic antics of both rivals and fans. This includes Nazi salutes, people shouting “Hamas! Hamas!” and hissing to imitate the sound of gas entering a death chamber. Let me be the first to say: Keep it classy, European futball fans.

And what of the Ajax fans who are actually Jewish? Well, many of them reportedly find the atmosphere so hostile they are unable to attend matches. Quoth a former member of the board of directors: “A lot of Jews all over the world believe that Ajax fans are proud to call themselves Jews, but it’s a kind of hooliganism.”

The outsider status fans feel by labeling themselves Jews has become a badge of honor, they think of themselves as being part of a distinctly oppressed subculture and gain a sense of group cohesion from that. The only problem is that they aren’t actually members of this oppressed ethnic group and appropriating the symbols and rhetoric of that struggle for the sake of sport is totally . Despite Ajax’s best efforts to nip this thing in the bud (spurned not by the rampant antisemitism, but by a chant calling a star player’s girlfriend a whore), decades of identification can’t be stopped–I mean, honestly, do you expect all those gentiles with the Star of David tattooed on their shoulder to just drop it?

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The Washington Post reported on the variety of racist remarks about Obama by European leaders.  Here’s one lowlight:

“Jürgen Gansel, a party leader and an elected lawmaker in the German state of Saxony, blamed Obama’s victory on “the American alliance of Jews and Negroes.”

Which led to the following Gchat conversation between myself and, (sound the hipster racism alarm,) my black best friend:

me: “Jürgen Gansel, a party leader and an elected lawmaker in the German state of Saxony, blamed Obama’s victory on “the American alliance of Jews and Negroes.”
friend: HOORAY!
friend: The war is over! Now we’re allies! Someone call Farrakhan!
Jews + Negroes > Whites. WIN ! WIN!
friend: And we’ve taken all the good humor and music with us. HAHAHAHA.
friend: Where’s the link to that article. Please god link me.
friend: Does this mean I can get in on that whole “Zionist Conspiracy” thing?
me: let me tell you, there’s less money in it than they promise you
friend: I’d argue that there’s more cash in it than there has been in our 250-year plot to destroy white people through self-harm and affirmative action.
that’s true, your plan to destroy the white man through liberal guilt and quotas really hasn’t delivered.
friend: We’re still reworking it. It sounded much better on paper. Well, not really on paper because Africa only has an oral tradition but you know what I mean.
me: hahaha
your plan is not worth the oral tradition it’s written on.

So yeah.  Jews, blacks, let’s get going on this.  Here’s a primer.

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Some religious news

Today, Israel’s highest Rabbinical court handed down a crucial ruling effectively annulling the conversions of some 40,000 people.  The Rabbis argued that the Israeli government has been too liberal in approving conversions to Judaism.  The matter is now being referred to the Israeli Supreme Court.

The Rabbinical court’s decision will not retroactively impact the citizenship of these individuals.  However, the ruling will likely make it harder for these converts to find Rabbis willing to oversee Jewish rituals for them, whether marriages, funerals, or other events.  Israel’s conversion management process is the unique byproduct of a technically secular state in which citizenship is determined by religion.  All Jews are citizens; Rabbis determine who are Jews; and the secular state has hiring and firing power over those Rabbis.  Prime Minister Olmert recently sacked the 76-year old Haim Druckman, the previous head of the conversion authority, for authorizing too few conversions.

There is no simple solution for this.  So long as citizenship is determined by religion, the state will be subject to the whim of the Rabbis.  At the same time, the state picks the Rabbis.  This all occurs, of course, on the backdrop of the usual Jew versus Jew arguments.  Unless Israel rethinks its fundamental premise of religious-based citizenship, this is a perpetual problem.

(In other religious news, Muslim scholars are meeting with the Pope to discuss a “joint crisis management plan.”  It’s a nice idea, and I’m imagining a Mecca-Roma red phone.)

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Julian Bond popped up Saturday night over dinner.  Today, having lunch at Eastern Market, I caught Congressman Steve Cohen.  Sadly I don’t have a camera on my phone, so you’ll have to trust my judgement.  Cohen is a unique-looking character, and was also wearing an orange lapel pin, so I’m certain it was him.

In case you don’t know him, Steve Cohen is a Jewish guy from Memphis who claims to have “the voting record of a black woman” and tried to join the CBC.  Cohen represents Tennessee’s only black-majority district.  He won his his 2006 primary amidst a split with a dozen black candidates, and then defeated corporatist Jake Ford (of the corporatist Ford family) who ran in the general as an independent.

In 2008, equally corporatist Nikki Tinker challenged Cohen in the primary.  Her anti-Semitic ads (and her surrogates’ worse ones) gained national attention and were condemned by Barack Obama.  Cohen, running on his solid record, promptly kicked her ass six ways to Sunday.

Cohen’s a strong liberal voice.  He’s also a snappy motherfucker.  Witness his response to Governor Palin’s dig at community organizers:

Best of all, his co-sponsorship of the Isaac Hayes Bill allows me to re-use the “Shaft Among the Jews” tag.

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Last week, Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Corruption) introduced a resolution honoring the life and music of the late Isaac Hayes. With 20 co-sponsors, the bill praises Hayes for his “vocal performances, songwriting, humanitarian work, and television and motion picture endeavors, and as a radio show host, pianist, saxophone player, restaurateur, and cookbook author.” HRes 1425 was dropped on the Judiciary Committee and will likely come up for “debate” (read: Tennesseans patting each other on the back) this week.

While this is clearly one of those yay-my-district bills, It’s a little hard to imagine the Congresswoman’s 87% white constituents wholeheartedly embracing Black Moses. That said, she does technically represent his birthplace, and a combination of home field advantage and personal preference has been known to cause otherwise ultra-conservatives (Blackburn, Issa, Orrin Hatch, Lamar Alexander,) to stand with the musicians’ union on key issues.

More on Orrin Hatch in particular from teh Wiki:

In the early 1970s he was the band manager for a Mormon-themed folk group called the Free Agency. The Free Agency was made up of members of an earlier Mormon group called the Sons of Mosiah, that was formed when guitarist David Zandonatti and vocalist Ron McNeeley relocated to Utah after their San Francisco based psychedelic group Tripsichord music box disbanded in 1971.

Rock musician Frank Zappa composed a guitar instrumental entitled “Orrin Hatch On Skiis,” which appears on his album, Guitar (1988).

Yes, Tripsichord Music Box and their San Francisco values.

Anyway that’s a digression. Point was, this Congressional resolution includes such gems as:

“Whereas Isaac Hayes was a television and film actor, appearing in countless television shows and three dozen movies, including roles in `The A-Team’, `The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’, `Girlfriends’, and `Miami Vice’

It’s not quite Cynthia McKinney’s Who Shot ‘Pac? bill, but the A-Team? Any day Mr. T gets name-dropped in the Congressional Record is a good day. Also this:

Whereas Isaac Hayes created the groundbreaking musical score and theme song for the movie `Shaft’

(For the record, this is the only bill in the current Congress featuring the word “shaft” that doesn’t relate to cars, energy or homeland security. Minds out of the gutters and search it yourself.)

But most crucially, this post allows me to re-use the John Kerry Spits Hot Fire tag.

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The very responsible adults in our media are comparing Palin to Norma Rae.  Witness Mathews:

MATTHEWS: She calls herself average but being mayor of little Wasilla got her ready for some big fights, a strong female up against the odds fighting for justice. It’s a familiar theme. She’s a conservative version you think perhaps of some movie heroes like Norma Rae, the factory worker fed up with minimum wage, who did whatever it took, even jail time, to get the union organized.

MATTHEWS: I love that stuff. And when we come back, Palin will fight to the end, but how will that play against [Sen.] Joe Biden?

Jeff Greenfield did the same thing here.

It’s obvious what Mathews and Greenfield are driving at:  Palin as a tough, small-town girl, a fighter against the odds.  Obviously it doesn’t matter that Norma Rae, aka Crystal Lee Sutton, was an organizer with ACTWU.  Obviously it doesn’t matter that Norma ‘s efforts are challenged by both ownership and her husband (patriarchal capitalism?)  Obviously it doesn’t matter that everything Norma Rae stands for as a film is antithetical to the positions of Sarah Palin’s party.

Oh and Sallie Field?

“Let’s face it, if the mothers ruled the world, there would be no goddamned wars in the first place.”

But you didn’t hear it on the teevee.

There’s a supreme logic to this:  Sarah Palin is a fighter.  Norma Rae is a fighter. Ergo, Sarah Palin is Norma Rae.


a)  John McCain is a maverick who plays by his own rules.

b)  John Shaft is a maverick who plays by his own rules.

c)  Ergo, John McCain is ________ ?

(McCain among the Jews?)

I remember watching Norma Rae at maybe 10 years old.  It’s a leftist rite of passage.  Arguably the high point of the entire film is the speech given by the organizer Reuben Warshowsky, and it’s worth quoting in full.  Next time you hear a talking-head drop the comparison, ask yourself if the Republican Party endorses the following statement:

“On October 4, 1970, my grandfather, Isaac Abraham Warshowsky, aged eighty-seven, died in his sleep in New York City. On the following Friday morning, his funeral was held. My mother and father attended, my two uncles from Brooklyn attended, my Aunt Minnie came up from Florida. Also present were eight hundred and sixty-two members of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and Cloth, Hat and Cap Makers’ Union. Also members of his family. In death as in life, they stood at his side. They had fought battles with him, bound the wounds of battle with him, had earned bread together and had broken it together. When they spoke, they spoke in one voice, and they were heard. They were black, they were white, they were Irish, they were Polish, they were Catholic, they were Jews, they were one. That’s what a union is: one… Ladies and gentlemen, the textile industry, in which you are spending your lives and your substance, and in which your children and their children will spend their lives and their substance, is the only industry in the whole length and breadth of the United States of America that is not unionized. Therefore, they are free to exploit you, to cheat you, to lie to you, and to take away what is rightfully yours – your health, a decent wage, a fit place to work. I would urge you to stop them by coming down to room 207 at the Golden Cherry Motel, to pick up a union card and to sign it… It comes from the Bible – according to the tribes of your fathers, ye shall inherit. It comes from Reuben Warshowsky – not unless you make it happen.”

Norma Rae: Not in her name.

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