Germany’s Jews honor national soccer head

BERLIN (JTA) — Germany’s Jewish community gave its top annual honor to the president of the German Football Association for his stance against anti-Semitism. 

The Central Council of Jews in Germany recognized Theo Zwanziger, 64, with the Leo Baeck Prize for his "unwavering commitment" to fighting anti-Semitism, including the "alarming and dangerous tendencies" among soccer fans today, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble said Wednesday in an address at the prize ceremony in Berlin.

Council President Charlotte Knobloch presented the prize, which is worth $14,000.

Soccer in Europe has been plagued with problems related to anti-Semitism and xenophobia, ranging from taunts to violence.

Zwanziger has "shown the ‘red card’ to those who misuse sport as a forum for their hateful and extremist attacks," said the council’s award announcement. "Freedom, democracy, responsibility and human dignity are no catchwords or empty slogans" for Zwanziger, who has "set an example for the athletes, trainers, fans and fan clubs, referees and all friends of sport."

In 2007, Zwanziger publicly criticized a young player of Iranian background on the German national team for refusing to play a European Cup qualifier game in Israel.

"I will make it somewhat harder for him, and will try to elicit a feeling of responsibility that he must exhibit as a German national team member," he said. "Today I am an Iranian, tomorrow I am German, it depends on how I feel — that’s not going to fly."

In 2005, Zwanziger created the annual Julius Hirsch Prize to honor sports-related projects that promote tolerance and human dignity and fight extremism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. It was named for German Jewish soccer star Julius Hirsch, who was killed in Auschwitz in 1943.

The prize is named for the late Rabbi Leo Baeck, a leader in Germany’s liberal movement.

 

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