Mass arrest of antisemitic soccer fans ‘important’ milestone, says top official

“The impact extends far beyond the subway and the stadium. They are copied by children in the classroom who think it’s cool to use ‘Jew’ as a term of abuse.”

By Ben Cohen, Algemeiner

The arrest of more than 150 soccer fans on Saturday by Dutch police as they chanted antisemitic slogans on their way to a top-flight match in Amsterdam has been greeted as an “important” signal that hatred of Jews will no longer be met with impunity, the Netherlands national coordinator for combating antisemitism said on Monday.

The 154 supporters of Dutch team AZ Alkmaar were detained by police officers as they made their way to Saturday’s match against Amsterdam’s flagship side Ajax, which is widely regarded as a “Jewish” club in the mythology of Dutch soccer. As they traveled to the city’s Johan Cruyff Arena on the metro, police officers repeatedly ordered the fans to stop chanting antisemitic slogans that are frequently heard at soccer matches in the Netherlands, among them “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas,” “all Jews must die,” and “we burn Jews together, because Jews burn best.”

The metro was eventually stopped at the Strandvliet station at 7.30 pm, where police officers arrested the fans after they failed to heed repeated warnings to stop the chants, Dutch news outlet De Volksrant reported. Following the arrests, violence broke out on the bus transporting the fans to a local jail, with windows smashed and two police officers assaulted and verbally abused. Eleven fans subsequently spent the night in the cells. The public prosecutor is currently deliberating on whether to press further charges against the group.

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The willingness of the police to overcome the logistical challenge of arresting large numbers of soccer fans proved that the Dutch authorities were no longer willing to tolerate antisemitic agitation, the Netherlands national coordinator for combating antisemitism, Eddo Verdoner, told Dutch media outlets.

“This is a signal that impunity does not exist,” Verdoner said. Referring to the observance of the annual Remembrance Day for World War II victims on May 4, Verdoner added that “we should learn from that: Antisemitism has no place in society.”

Verdoner emphasized that the scenes witnessed on Saturday should not be regarded as merely a problem in the country’s soccer stadiums.

“We shouldn’t pretend that these are ‘just’ antisemitic chants from football supporters,” he said. “The impact extends far beyond the subway and the stadium. They are copied by children in the classroom. They hear this in stadiums and think: it’s cool to use ‘Jew’ as a term of abuse. The tolerance, the indifference, it has to stop.”

The incident was widely condemned by Dutch officials, including Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema, who called the chanting “unacceptable” and “painful.” Halsema has already adopted a tougher approach to antisemitic soccer fans, having earlier this year banned supporters of Ajax rivals PSV Eindhoven from attending a match in Amsterdam because of chants that targeted Jews at a previous game.

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Separately, the management of AZ Alkmaar issued a statement condemning the chanting, while the city’s mayor, Anja Schouten, said she was “extremely angry and disappointed.”

“Antisemitism is unacceptable and does not belong anywhere, not in our municipality, not in football, not at AZ,” she stressed.