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Antisemitism at White Hart Lane turns spotlight on West Ham fans

Nov 26, 2012, 1:42 PM EDT

Tottenham Hotspur's Bale scores a goal against West Ham United during their English Premier League soccer match in London Reuters

Filling the void left when the Mark Clattenburg complaint was dismissed, English soccer has another controversy on its hands. This time, antisemitism’s focus after London Metropolitan police received a complaint about fan behavior following Sunday’s 3-0 loss at Tottenham Hotspur.

Two West Ham fans were arrested during at White Hart Lane after using Nazi-style salutes. One fan, a West Ham season pass holder, has been banned by the club.

There’s more. This, from the Guardian, highlights fans’ willingness to leverage the mid-week stabbing of a Spurs’ supporter in Rome:

Spurs’ 3-1 victory on Sunday was overshadowed by West Ham supporters apparently mocking the Holocaust and chanting a song about Adolf Hitler. They were also heard singing “Viva Lazio” and “Can we stab you every week?” just three days after an attack on Tottenham fans in Rome, prior to the London club’s Europa League group match against Lazio, in which one fan, Ashley Mills, was stabbed in the head and leg.

This type of a behavior is nothing new to Spurs fans. Tottenham Hotspur has long enjoyed strong support from the Jewish community, support that has made the club target of this kind of perverse derision.

As Anna Kessel wrote for The Observer in 2007, the abuse is both ubiquitous and complicated by an artifact of fan desire to fight the problem:

Abuse has been heard at Premier League grounds from Arsenal to Wigan. A complicating factor is Tottenham’s close association with the problem – whether they are playing or not, many of the chants are directed at the club or their former players. Their fans’ self-identification as ‘Yids’ – a derogatory word for a Jew – is problematic. Last week fans and representatives of the Tottenham Supporters Trust, Maccabi GB and Kick It Out debated the issue. Supporters say the term is used as a ‘badge of honour’, which aligns Jews and non-Jews in a proud allegiance to the club, but campaigners say it provokes and legitimises abuse from rival fans. As both sets of fans often interchange ‘Yid’ for ‘Jew’, or words depicting a relationship to Israel or Palestine, the demarcation lines separating football from religion, race, politics and anti-Semitism are decidedly blurred.

That background it doesn’t condone the actions of idiots. All clubs have some sort of history. Every big team enjoys support from a variety of demographics. Unfortunately, that just gives malicious fans more to grasp at when they’re intent on saying something, anything to fulfill their poorly defined obligations.

Guardian writer Jacob Steinberg, speaking as a Jewish West Ham supporter, provided some more context for Sunday’s events, sharing his experiences in the Hammers’ stands:

Antisemitism and racism has existed at West Ham for years. Before a play-off semi-final at Ipswich in 2004, I heard a chant of “Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz, Hitler’s gonna gas them again”. No one did anything. There is a chant mocking Spurs fans for having no foreskins that ends with a cry of “F—— Jew”.

People call Carlton Cole a black bastard. When Jermain Defoe missed a last-minute chance during a draw with Burnley in 2003, the person in front of me lost the plot, kicking the chair in front of him and screaming racial abuse. During a match against Everton in 2010, Cole missed a late sitter, prompting one fan to bellow that he was a “f—— n—–”. He’s still there every week.

This behavior isn’t exclusive to West Ham fans. Whenever people put themselves in situations where their passions can be exposed, we see some of passions are horrible.

Today, the story again turns to soccer, and again, it’s touched on England. The issue far transcends sport, so it’s likely something as inconsequential as the English Premier League can do anything to solve the problem. All the league can do is get as far away from it as possible, erect a bubble, and hope in vain that it can pretend the issue doesn’t effect the sport.

Taking away season passes can’t hurt.

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