BERLIN (AP) — The first soccer game involving an Israeli team at the stadium built for the 1936 Olympics hosted by Nazi Germany was marred by antisemitic abuse aimed at the visiting team's fans.
Union Berlin said Friday it condemned the antisemitic attacks against Maccabi Haifa supporters during the teams' Europa Conference League game at Berlin’s Olympiastadion the night before.
“Intolerable,” the club said in a statement of the physical and verbal abuse first detailed by members of the youth branch of the local German-Israeli society, who attended the game in a mixed block of fans.
Union president Dirk Zingler apologized for the fans’ actions.
The Junges Forum Deutsch-Israelische Gesellschaft said they had beer thrown on them and were called “(expletive) Jews” among other insults, and that one Union fan attempted to set alight an Israeli flag taken from a female supporter until he was stopped by civil police.
“There were also Union fans who spoke up against this behavior. We moved to the Maccabi-block to be on the safe side,” the society said.
Of the 23,324 fans attending the game, which Union won 3-0, nearly 1,000 were Maccabi supporters.
The Department for Research and Information on Antisemitism Berlin, or RIAS, said Friday that the atmosphere in Block 13, where the Maccabi fans were located, was already heated before the game, and that visiting fans also faced racist and homophobic slurs as well as the antisemitic abuse.
RIAS said that after the game a group of Haifa fans were walking past some Union supporters when one of the Union fans asked his companions, “Hey guys, do any of you have a little 74-90-8 in your pocket?” RIAS said the individual grinned at the Haifa fans. The numbers refer to hydrogen cyanide, the active ingredient in the poison gas Zyklon B.
The Fare Network, which combats discrimination in soccer, said “eyewitnesses were shocked by the levels of antisemitism” at the game, and it showed pictures of a Union supporter who, it said, gave Nazi salutes toward the visiting fans “and abused those who called him out.”
Another man behind in one of the pictures can also be seen also giving a Nazi salute, which is made by extending the right arm upward with the palm flattened. It is illegal in Germany, and punishable by prison terms.
“This behavior is shameful and intolerable,” Union president Zingler said Friday. “We apologize to those affected. Unfortunately, antisemitism is still present in our society, which is why it is also evident in the stadium. But we will never tolerate discrimination in our ranks. It is important to remain vigilant and to work tirelessly against it. We are supporting the police investigations with all the sources of information available to us.”
Olympiastadion is usually used by Union’s city rival Hertha Berlin, but it has been taken over by Union for European competition this season as its own stadium in the eastern borough of Köpenick doesn’t have enough seating capacity to meet UEFA demands.
Union said before the game that it was hosting Israeli embassy workers, representatives of the Jewish-Christian-Islamic dialogue project House of One, athletes from local sports club Makkabi Berlin, and others for the match.
“We know that this game is of very special importance beyond the sporting side for our guests from Haifa and for the Jewish community in Berlin,” Zingler had said.
Maccabi Haifa made no mention of the abusive incidents after the game.
“Thank you for the great hospitality. It was an exciting game in front of your and also our fans, and also in this stadium, which has its meaning,” the club said on Twitter. “Thank you, and till we see each other again in Israel.”
The Union Berlin fan blog Textilvergehen said the words “disgusting” and “absolutely shameful” were not adequate to describe the abuse.
The youth branch of the local German-Israeli society on Friday expressed its gratitude for the support it received from the majority of fans.
“Thank you for the wave of solidarity online and to the Union fans who showed their solidarity with us in the stadium!” the group said on Twitter. “The majority of Unioners welcomed Maccabi in a friendly manner and celebrated soccer together.”
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Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP