German soccer body rails against anti-Semitism

A small group of fans verbally abuse Itay Shechter, calling him "dirty Jew," gesturing at him with Nazi salute; incident sparks wave of criticism in German media.

ISRAEL STRIKER Itay Shechter 390 (R) (photo credit: Reuter)
ISRAEL STRIKER Itay Shechter 390 (R)
(photo credit: Reuter)
BERLIN - Germany's football federation (DFB) announced Tuesday that it will not tolerate anti-Semitic or racist attacks, after a small group of people verbally abused Israeli player Itay Shechter during a Kaiserslautern training session earlier in the week.
Right-wing extremist soccer hooligans called Israeli soccer player, Itay Shechter, a "dirty Jew" on Sunday. The outbreak of anti-Semitism in the soccer stadium prompted a wave of criticism and coverage in the German media.
The incident took place on Sunday, a day after relegation-threatened Kaiserslautern's 4-0 defeat at Mainz 05 left them in 17th place, level on points with bottom-placed Freiburg.
A small group of people attended training, shouted anti-Semitic insults at Schechter and gestured at him with the Nazi salute. A few hundred fans had met with players and officials to discuss the club's sporting situation.
"Together with the president we want to underline that the DFB will not tolerate such actions and we must act decisively," Wolfgang Niersbach, who will take over from DFB boss Theo Zwanziger next month, told reporters. "Racism and anti-Semitism have no place in football. We must defend ourselves against this and we hope that the authorities chase up this incident."
Alex Feuerherdt, a German journalist who reports on anti-Semitism in the field of soccer, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that "anti-Semitism in German soccer is still a serious problem. While the number of anti-Semitic and racist incidents in games in the top German leagues of the Bundesliga as a whole has dropped, there continues to be anti-Semitic incidents in the second league and in amateur soccer, particularly in East Germany." He said the word "Jew" is used with the intention of insult.
According to Feuerherdt, the "example of Kaiserslautern has now shown that anti-Semitism is an entirely serious problem at the highest league." Feuerherdt, who referees German soccer matches, said the German soccer federation (DFB) stresses that its regional and state clubs are strictly against anti-Semitism and racism and rigorously act against it. But in practice, noted Feuerherdt, the federation does too little and its penalties are too mild." Campaigns against anti-Semitism are not useful when there are no consequences," he said
According to German media reports on Monday, the police, who were present on the game, did not eject the participants due to "deescalation reasons." It is unclear why the police retreated and did not intervene at the scene of the alleged crime. German police frequently employ a deescalation strategy to combat protests. Critics see the tactic as a way to tolerate greater violence and allow perpetrators to escape prosecution. German journalist Feuerherdt said it is "completely inexplicable that the police did not intervene. He said the police should have intervened when the hooligans called Schechter a "dirty Jew."
Police have launched an investigation to identify those involved, while the club - which has called on fans to help identify the people involved - condemned the incident saying those responsible were not football fans.
"The players understood the feelings, views and fears of the fans," Kaiserslautern chairman Stefan Kuntz said on Tuesday at a meeting with the Kaiserslautern fans.
"As a conclusion, it is this meeting with 300 club fans that should be in focus and not the inexcusable behavior of a handful of radicals," said Kuntz.
Stefan Frank, a German journalist who has written about modern anti-Semitism in the Federal Republic, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that many of the anti-Semitic slurs and racist comments are heard not in the stadiums of the professional clubs but on the way to the stadiums in trains and other forms of public transportation.
Frank noted that rule Number 58 of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Disciplinary Code, says "anyone who offends the dignity of a person or group of persons through contemptuous, discriminatory or denigratory words or actions concerning race, color, language, religion or origin" can face sanctions.
The display of Nazi symbols is banned in Germany and there have been growing concerns since the revelations last November that an extremist right-wing cell calling itself the Nationalist Socialist Underground lay behind the killings of 10 people, eight Turks, a Greek and a German policewoman.
Germany's Nazi past makes right-wing militancy a particularly sensitive subject in the country. Experts have long warned of extremism among disenchanted young people in eastern regions of the country where unemployment is high and job prospects poor.
"The club's fan representatives want to distance themselves from any racist, discriminatory or anti-Semitic comments of any kind," Kaiserslautern fan clubs said in a joint statement on Tuesday.
Reuters contributed to this report.