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In November, several West Ham fans hissed loudly to evoke the sound of Nazi gas chambers and gave what appeared to be the Nazi salute. The incident occurred during a match against the Tottenham Hotspurs, a club long associated with North London’s Jewish community. A statement from West Ham subsequently said that two supporters had been “cautioned for racially aggravated gesturing.”
Since then, Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun of Chelsea has been the repeated target of anti-Semitic hate speech. Police are investigating the latest incident, in which Benayoun was the target of an anti-Semitic epithet on Twitter. And in January, the Israeli-born Tal Ben Haim, who plays for the Queens Park Rangers, was subject to anti-Semitic abuse on the soccer club’s official Facebook page.
Meanwhile, anti-Semitic slogans are routinely heard at soccer matches elsewhere in Europe. In Budapest, fans shouted Nazi slogans at the Israeli national team during a friendly match in August. In Italy, fans of the Lazio club also chanted anti-Semitic slogans during a match against Tottenham; some are believed to have participated in the stabbing of a Tottenham fan at a Rome bar.
Incidents like these prompted the Union of European Football Associations, or UEFA, to introduce a 10-game ban on anyone caught engaging in racist abuse.
In England, the F.A. last week introduced a five-game ban, drawing sharp criticism. Jason Roberts, a black British soccer player, said it exposed “bad decisions, lack of will, lack of consultation and lack of leadership” by the F.A. The chairman of England’s Kick It Out organization — one of the F.A.’s main partners in the fight against racism and the inspiration for Shanan’s outfit – warned, “We will look stupid if UEFA goes with 10 and we go with five.”
In December, Kick It Out Chairman Herman Ouseley criticized the F.A. for “delaying” a detailed plan to fight soccer racism.
David Bernstein, the F.A.’s Jewish chairman, told the BBC that a 10-game ban “lacks subtlety” and would limit the association’s ability to treat “different levels of offenses.”
F.A. spokesman Scott Field told JTA that his organization’s work in Israel “doesn’t mean we’re taking our eyes off the ball in England. Expressions of racism do sometimes occur here, but it’s not inappropriate for us to contribute to another community.”