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Monday, March 28, 2005

Ajax and the Jews

In today's New York Times there is an article on the philo-semitic fan culture of the Amsterdam football club Ajax, the venomous reaction it spawns from rival supporters, and the increasing discomfort with which the club's management (and some members of Holland's small Jewish community) view it.

AMSTERDAM - 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.

Ajax's identification with the Jewish can be traced back to before World War II, when Amsterdam had a substantial Jewish minority and Ajax was located in the east of the city near the main Jewish quarter. Many of its supporters were Jewish, as well as a handful of players and directors. After the annihilation of Dutch Jewry in the Holocaust the issue lay dormant for several decades until being reborn under the taunts of supporters of other clubs like Feyenoord Rotterdam, Den Haag, and PSV Eindhoven. In reaction, the Ajax supporters (by now almost entirely non-Jewish) defiantly adopted Jewish symbols like the Star of David as part of their iconography.

If you are interested in reading more, I highly recommend Simon Kuper's Ajax, de Joden, Nederland which, fortunately, can be read in English translation at the Ajax USA site.

|| RPH || 5:09 PM || |