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.”
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.
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?