BOSTON – The score read Chelsea Football Club 3 and the New England Revolution 0, but the real winner at Wednesday night’s charity match at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, was the fight against the rising global spread of antisemitism.
Chelsea’s Russian-Israeli owner, Roman Abramovich, flew into Boston to watch the “Final Whistle on Hate” game with Revolution owner Robert Kraft along with an estimated 25,000 fans. Kraft, also the owner of the New England Patriots, and Abramovich each donated $1 million to the cause.
The cumulative funds raised from the donations and the game proceeds have been earmarked for 15 organizations that are working to combat antisemitism, including the ADL, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston, Hillel International, the Jewish Agency and StandWithUs.
“It’s just like Mr. Kraft to do something like this,” said Cindy, a server in one of the luxurious VIP boxes atop the stadium, where Kraft and Abramovich’s invited guests watched the match and enjoyed a sumptuous buffet. “I didn’t even know this was even a big issue, but if the Kraft family is involved, then it must be important.”
For Kraft, the 2019 Genesis Prize laureate, it’s indeed very important. The impetus for the match was last October’s massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Abramovich’s “Say No To Antisemitism” campaign in British soccer had already been in full swing for over a year, and the two discussed the idea of launching a similar event in the US, Kraft said earlier Wednesday at a pregame luncheon at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.
Citing the personal stories of some of the victims, Kraft added, “You think about these innocent, wonderful people being slaughtered for no other reason than being in a house of worship in the United States and you realize something has to be done.”
Kraft said that he was invited to speak at the synagogue and receive an aliyah to the Torah when the Patriots were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers a few weeks after the attack. “It was more important for me to be there with them than to attend the game,” he said.
Quoting the Talmud, he said: “There’s no bad that happens without some good coming from it, and I promised the people there that we would try to find a way to turn something positive from that tragedy. It was the catalyst for this event. The power of sports has the ability to bring people together and give messaging, and that’s what we’ve tried to do.”
ATTENDING THE match and cheering on both teams were Israel’s Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer, its permanent representative at the UN, Danny Danon, Consul-General in New York Dani Dayan, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, the US special envoy on antisemitism Elan Carr, and former Chelsea manager and longtime Israeli soccer legend Avram Grant.
Danon also brought four UN ambassadors with him to the match and to the luncheon, which was attended by some 200 dignitaries and representatives of Jewish organizations.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post after giving the keynote address at the luncheon, Carr said that the current US administration was giving unprecedented support to combat antisemitism, and it was at the top of President Donald Trump’s list of priorities.
“At his last State of the Union address, the most important speech that he gives, he devoted a lot of time to the issue,” said Carr. “In the history of the United States, we’ve never seen an administration so committed to fighting antisemitism and supporting Israel.”
Carr, who just returned from Europe, said that he was impressed that European leaders are understanding that antisemitism in their countries is not just a threat to Jews.
“They are saying that it’s a vital struggle for the future of our countries,” said Carr.
Without referring directly to recent comments by freshman US congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar that have been criticized as being antisemitic, Carr said that accusing Jews of dual loyalty or betraying the US “is shockingly wrong.”
“This country was built by patriots who embraced their heritage and faith. To suggest that for one to embrace their heritage and faith somehow makes them less American is a fundamental misunderstanding of American values.”
When asked by the Post if too much attention is being given to every statement that could be perceived as being antisemitic, Carr said that no statement should be ignored.
“Whether the speaker intended it or not, we have to stand up and oppose it. The lesson of today is that even statements made out of ignorance can be very dangerous. Whenever inaccuracies are uttered, which they are on a regular basis today, we have to stand up and shout against them. It’s crucially important for the safety of the Jewish people, both in the US and throughout the world, as well as the safety of the Jewish state.
“As I said in my remarks at the luncheon, hatred of the Jewish state is hatred of the Jewish people. One can’t substitute the word ‘Zionist’ for Jew and have the green light to disseminate vicious antisemitic views.”
In a panel at the luncheon titled “Antisemitism in the World,” Danon said that bringing UN ambassadors to the game and, last month, to the March of the Living in Poland and on to Israel is part of Israel’s education efforts.
“We’re fighting the double standards at the UN against Israel every day,” said Danon. “And more so, what’s happening today is that we hear more and more remarks at the UN comparing Israel to Germany and the IDF to Nazis.”
He cited a resolution introduced last month after the attack on Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, and attacks on minority groups that was not going to mention attacks on Jews or antisemitism.
“We worked and worked behind the scenes to change the language of the resolution to include antisemitism.
“This is an ongoing battle, and it’s not going to be won today or tomorrow,” he said.
Herzog, in his comments, cited this week’s stabbing attack against a Jewish woman in Helsingborg, Sweden.
“You have extreme fascists on the Right and extreme fascists on the Left fueled by ancient classical antisemitism and it’s explosive. And you see it all over the world,” said Herzog, citing Europe, Latin America and American college campuses.
Whether or not a friendly soccer match can do much to stem the tide of antisemitism that the speakers – which also included the vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, and the director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Sara J. Bloomfield – warned of is anybody’s guess.
But the deep pockets and deep-rooted commitments by Kraft and Abramovich to attempt to spark a fundamental change in the way that antisemitism is perceived will undoubtedly continue long after the scoreboard at Gillette Stadium went dark Wednesday night and Cindy finished clearing up the buffet plates.
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