‘Ahí viene Chaca por el callejón, matando judíos para hacer jabón’
[Chaca is coming along the road, killing the Jews to make soap]
The pain is etched over his face as an angry red patch grows rapidly on his shoulder. The smell of burnt flesh overpowers the smell of hash and body odour as the crowd moves back to get a better view of his injury. His agony is masked by a tirade of swear words and he leaves the ground shortly after.
The flare had hit his back before bouncing onto the concrete terracing below.
I’m standing in the Estadio Don León Kolbovski, the home ground of Club Atlético Atlanta. Based in Villa Crespo, in the north west of Buenos Aires, the Club is something of an anomaly in South American football. Atlanta has given the capital's significant Jewish population the ability to access mainstream Argentinian culture, while drawing on support from across the barrio of Villa Crespo.
The area originally grew to prominence through mass immigration. Its industrial heritage drew thousands of workers in the late-nineteenth century, particularly to work in the local shoe factories. The area is renowned for its Jewish community, and although populated by various ethnicities, Villa Crespo, together with Once, has long been considered a Jewish neighbourhood. Indeed Atlanta itself, particularly during the late-twentieth century, has had a conspicuous Jewish presence among its fans and Club officials. The Club reached out to Jewish centres and the Jewish diaspora to build a solid fan base. As such, this outreach has regularly led to the Atlanta being referred to as the ‘Jewish Club’.
Needless to say, the often ambivalent reception Argentine’s have given Jewish immigrants throughout the course of history has wider implications than on the football pitch.
The major political Jewish organisation, the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA), issued a report in late 2012, which illustrated a rise in anti-Semitic incidents during 2011, allied with a significant change in methods of aggression. Three out of every 10 occurrences took place within an online platform, including football message boards and social media networking sites. Approximately 300 anti-Semitic incidents are reported in the country every year, but the non-Jewish and English-langue titles fail to cover it in print to the extent many feel is necessary.
But as with most things in the country, the situation was thrust into the limelight through the medium of football.
Club Atlético Chacarita Juniors is based in the same barrio as Atlanta, but draw elements of its support from the conservative and centre-right in the region. As always, when it comes to football, this is somewhat of a generalisation, but it doesn’t make it an inaccurate one.
In February, 2000 Chacarita fans greeted the Atlanta team with Swastikas, and threw soap on the field while singing: “With the Jews we make soap.” In March 2012, La Famosa Banda de San Martín (The Famous San Martín Band ), the Chacarita Junior’s Barra Brava, repeatedly sung: ‘‘Ahí viene Chaca por el callejón, matando judíos para hacer jabón’.
The Argentine Football Association Disciplinary Court ruled that Chacarita Juniors would lose the point received following the 1-1 draw with Atlanta.
At the time of the incident, the Wiesenthal Center’s Director for International Relations (a global Jewish human rights organisation), Dr. Shimon Samuels, sent a letter to the presidents of AFA’s Executive Committee and its Disciplinary Court saying, “There are no excuses for such abhorrent behavior and the use of Holocaust imagery of the death camps, where the Nazis proposed to melt Jewish fat for the production of soap. We met with AFA’s President Grondona, who promised us zero tolerance for racism on the football terraces. We now expect him to show an exemplary 'Red Flag' to Chacarita Juniors.”
However, whether or not much will be done to solve the problem remains to be seem. Julio Grondona, President of the AFA, raised controversy following questions over the standard of referees in Argentina. “I do not believe a Jew can ever be a referee at this level. It’s hard work and, you know, Jews don’t like hard work,” he said.
With attitudes like that, progress is sure to be slow.
A place in the stand