Fighting anti-Semitism in sports tops agenda of upcoming New York conference

“I believe that sports is a vehicle through which we can effect change in the world,” says Anthony Davidson, who spearheaded the upcoming conference on anti-Semitism.

By Laura Kelly, The Algemeiner

Anthony Davidson is preparing for his worlds to collide. An academic, an avid soccer fan and the son of a Holocaust survivor, Davidson is spearheading an upcoming conference addressing anti-Semitism and sports at Fordham University in New York.

Davidson, who is dean of Fordham’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies in the Bronx, launched the initiative as a way to inspire change at a time when anti-Semitic hate crimes, and bias in general, are on the rise in the U.S. and around the world.

“I believe that sports is a vehicle through which we can effect change in the world,” he said in an interview with The Algemeiner.

“We obviously have a rising problem with hate crime and anti-Semitism and is growing exponentially, even compared to other forms of hate,” he added. “And so, as somebody whose mother was a survivor of Auschwitz and the concentration camps, I’m a big sports fan for that matter, I thought this was an appropriate thing to have.”

Anti-Semitic attacks and incidents rose by 18 percent worldwide in 2018 from the previous year, according to research by Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry.

New York City, specifically, has counted almost 150 anti-Jewish hate crimes and bias complaints in the first half of 2019.

Soccer also holds the macabre distinction of being a sport in which fans have taunted teams or players with anti-Semitic chants and imagery, with numerous incidents at European matches where fans have organized jeering of the other team specifically referencing Jews and the Holocaust, with crowds hissing to mimic the sounds of the gas chambers, and stickers passed out with the image of Anne Frank in an opposing team’s jersey.

“Most of it is trying to get under their skin and goodnatured needling,” Davidson said. “But a lot of it — and especially in Eastern Europe and also, incredibly in Italy, is absolutely mind-blowing. In a sense that you can have a banner that is almost the size of an entire section of the stadium in Italy at a game and it will say on it in massive letters ‘Jews to the ovens.’”

Davidson’s mother was born in a small town in Eastern Europe, today part of Ukraine, but was taken to Auschwitz in 1944. She managed to escape, making her way to England, but working to save many lives in the process, Davidson said. He often recounts her story at gatherings to remember the sacrifices of the Holocaust.

“She had saved a number of people at great risk to her own personal life, all who survived and who I’ve met — their children, grandchildren, and in some cases great-grandchildren,” he recalled.

Davidson, who grew up in England as a Chelsea football fan, found himself in the unique position to partner with the sports teams for this initiative.

For the symposium, set for Sept. 25, Fordham is partnering with Chelsea and Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution and their “Final Whistle on Hate” campaign, launched last year to raise awareness on Holocaust education and the dangers of anti-Semitism.

Both clubs have Jewish owners, Roman Abramovich and Robert Kraft, respectively. Last year, as part of the campaign, both teams participated in March of the Living, an annual Holocaust commemoration taking participants to the Auschwitz and Birkenau death camps in Poland and then to Israel.

“This is about developing thought leadership…what’s important is, how can we do it to change the playing field, literally and figuratively, going forward,” Davidson said.