The police in Amsterdam arrested 154 soccer fans for singing antisemitic chants on the train while on the way to a match on Saturday, the authorities said, the latest in a series of bigoted public displays in the country.
The police said that the supporters continued the songs and chants even after being told to stop, and then were arrested on charges that included insulting a group of people because of their race, religion or conviction.
Those arrested were supporters of AZ Alkmaar, a team from a town about a 40-minute drive northwest of Amsterdam, the capital. They were going to see their team play Ajax, a club with roots in a historically Jewish area of the city.
“Violence, insults and other criminal acts aren’t accepted,” the police said in a statement, adding that 11 fans had spent the night in jail on suspicion of destroying windows and violence toward officers.
This is far from the first case of antisemitism in Dutch soccer, particularly directed at the Amsterdam team.
“It’s a stubborn problem,” said Naomi Mestrum, the director of the Center for Information and Documentation Israel (CIDI), a Dutch organization that combats antisemitism. What was different about this incident, she said, was that the police had acted in the moment and made immediate arrests.
“Usually we press charges afterward,” she said. CIDI filed a case in April against someone whom the organization said made antisemitic remarks through a microphone outside the soccer stadium in Rotterdam. Prosecutors are investigating, the Dutch media reported.
AZ Alkmaar, the soccer club whose fans were arrested on Saturday, denounced the chants. “The club strongly condemns inflammatory behavior and discrimination and emphatically distances itself from those who made themselves guilty of it,” the team said in a statement.
Though Ajax doesn’t currently have Jewish players, and it was not founded as a Jewish club, emblems of Jewish identity have long been associated with the Amsterdam team, which has had some notable Jewish players and officials. Israeli flags are often seen during matches, and are also for sale outside the stadium. Die-hard fans — even those who aren’t Jewish — wear Star of David necklaces in support of the club.
It’s time for that to end, said Ms. Mestrum. “Ajax doesn’t have anything to do with Jews anymore,” she said. But, she added, soccer rivalries and the abuse that goes with them have had an effect on how Jewish people are perceived in society.
“People’s awareness continues to decline,” Ms. Mestrum said. “I’m especially worried about a lack of historical awareness and the seriousness of antisemitism.”
Saturday’s arrests came two days after the Netherlands’ national day of remembrance, which commemorates Dutch victims of war, including those who were killed during the Holocaust and World War II as a whole.
“On May 4, we remember the victims of war, including 102,000 fellow citizens who were deported to gas chambers,” Ms. Mestrum said. These chants “show a total lack of awareness by the fans.”
In December 2022, the Dutch government announced a plan to combat antisemitism in the Netherlands to show that the country takes the problem seriously.
Antisemitic incidents are on the rise in the Netherlands, said Ms. Mestrum, whose organization logged 183 cases excluding online abuse in 2021, a 36 percent increase compared to the year before. The country has roughly 30,000 Jewish people, according to the World Jewish Congress, out of a population of 17 million, with the community concentrated in Amsterdam.
In the United States, the number of antisemitic incidents in 2022 was the highest since the Anti-Defamation League began keeping track in 1979, the Jewish advocacy group said.
Even outside soccer, racist and antisemitic slogans have become a growing problem in the Netherlands. Over New Year’s, white supremacist phrases — including “happy white 2023” — were projected on a bridge in Rotterdam. In February, antisemitic phrases based on a conspiracy theory were projected onto the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.