September 3, 2015
This summer, we, Fabian Weissbarth and Leonard Kaminski, AJC Berlin colleagues who also share a passion for football, (or some might say, soccer,) decided to set up our own team.
Our team is affiliated with the Maccabi Jewish athletics movement and plays in an amateur league here in Berlin, in the least competitive division. Jews and non-Jews play on our team, including Muslims with Turkish and Arabic roots. For us, this never mattered. On and off the field, we are teammates and friends, drawn together by our passion for the game.
In starting a Jewish soccer team, we of course had the history of Jewish sports in Germany in mind, and were partly inspired by this year’s European Maccabi Games, which took place for the first time in Germany since the Shoah. We did not anticipate we would confront antisemitism directly. Our hope was to play soccer with other enthusiasts from the Berlin area, and be treated like any other team. This past Sunday, however, those hopes were dashed.
For our first home game, we were slated to play against a team based in the district of Wedding, an area of Berlin with a strong Turkish heritage. Following kickoff and throughout the first half, members of the opposing team began taunting us and our teammates with antisemitic slurs. They called us things like “Jewish swine,” and “dirty Jew.” Although antisemitism on the sports field in Germany isn’t unheard of, we were shocked to experience this degree of unmitigated and unprovoked antisemitism and hostility.
At the start of the second half, when the score was 1-0 in our favor, the confrontation escalated when a player from the opposing team started kicking one of our supporters, who was cheering us on from the benches, in the stomach. As some of our players attempted to push away the attacker, a tumult ensued, drawing more and more players and spectators into the tussle. The referee broke off the match. Hoping to deescalate the conflict, we hustled off the field to our locker-room. The Berlin police soon arrived and took statements from those involved before escorting the opposing team's players from the area.
The German media reported on the incident widely in the days following the match. While the reports mentioned the antisemitic slogans, most unfortunately framed the incident as a mutual confrontation for which both sides were allegedly responsible. Even worse, some journalists repeated false assertions from members of the Meteor 06 team, who accused some of our teammates of hurling anti-Muslim and anti-Arab slogans at them. Our team, we remind you, includes Jewish and Muslim players.
These accusations of anti-Muslim harassment on our part are completely unfounded; they represent a contradiction to our team’s values.
We were relieved to hear that the Berlin Football Association has temporarily suspended Meteor 06 in response to the aggression, hostility and antisemitic attacks they directed against our team and supporters on Sunday. The decision was based on accounts from those who witnessed the attack, including the referee. A final ruling on the team’s status is expected on September 18.
For us it is clear: This blatantly antisemitic attack must be recognized as such. It is unacceptable that this incident be considered a normal 'brawl' between two rival soccer teams. As the members and supporters of the only Jewish sports club – a team which includes Jews and Muslims – we were clearly targets of an antisemitic attack. Such expressions of outright hatred and animosity against Jews should not be trivialized.
We’re grateful AJC Berlin supports our team, sponsoring our jerseys and encouraging us to pursue our passion for soccer.
Our ambition to contribute to the revival of Jewish athletics – and to the revival of Jewish life – in Germany has not been stymied.