A vicious attack in Rome on fans of the Tottenham Hotspurs soccer team, a London team that has strong Jewish connections, has raised concerns within the Jewish community over an apparent escalation of anti-Semitic outbursts at soccer matches in Europe.
Ten fans were injured last Thursday, one of them seriously, when a gang of approximately 50 marauding soccer fans descended on a bar in the Italian capital, flinging around baseball bats, knives and broken bottles just before a Europa League match against Lazio, a Rome team.
The attack was immediately connected to Lazio’s notoriously wild fans, the Ultras, although team officials denied its supporters had anything to do with the latest violence.
As the police in Rome were said to have arrested two local men on suspicion of attempted homicide, officials were looking into the conjectured belief that anti-Semitism was the motivating sentiment behind what appeared to be an organized assault.
During the game itself, there was an anti-Semitic outburst, with Lazio fans chanting ‘Juden Tottenham, Juden Tottenham’ and unrolling a huge banner saying ‘Free Palestine.’
“Tottenham has a strong following from the Jewish community in North London,” stated the World Jewish Congress. The Jewish group is pushing for action, should the anti-Semitism continue.
“It seems that all those expensive campaigns against racism that were run in recent years by UEFA, FIFA and others have not made a lasting impression, at least not on serial offenders such as certain supporters of Lazio,” said Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress.
“The only way to overcome this ugly phenomenon is to threaten tough consequences for clubs who don’t take their obligation seriously to keep hatemongers and racist thugs out of stadiums. This problem of racist Lazio supporters is not new, and it ought to be taken more seriously by all people concerned. Imposing fines on the clubs whose fans misbehave in such a way is obviously completely ineffective.”
Supporters of the Tottenham team often wave Israeli flags during their soccer matches, and the fans refer to themselves in their chants as the ‘yid army.’ At the same time, the Lazio team has become well-known for having fans with extreme right-wing beliefs, and a reputation for giving Nazi salutes, displaying anti-Semitic banners and singing racist insults against black players.
The English Football Association plans to send a report to European soccer’s governing body UEFA with regard to the latest incident of anti-Semitic displays, and the manager of the Spurs,Andre Villas-Boas, has demanded an investigation.
Israeli ambassador to Italy Naor Gilon asserted that the attack on Spurs supporters epitomized “a new trend of anti-Semitism in Europe.”
This past week’s disturbances are most certainly not the first of these types of unsettling racist scenarios in Italy. Just days prior, Italian police arrested four people on several charges, including allegedly inciting racial hatred via the website of the white supremacist movement Stormfront, harboring a cache of weapons, and disseminating neo-Nazi propaganda, after the group published a list of notable Jewish citizens.
Teenagers bearing neo-fascist flags attacked a high school last month, tossing smoke bombs into classrooms while classes were taking place. Shortly afterwards, a school that was scheduled to host a meeting with local authorities about the “neo-fascist resurgence in schools” was painted with swastikas, Celtic crosses and the word ‘Hitler.’