(JTA) — Australian-Jewish teenager Harry Sheezel made headlines Monday for getting drafted into the Australian Football League and for facing a barrage of online antisemitism in the wake of his selection.
The 18-year-old medium forward was picked third overall by last-place North Melbourne, which finished the 2022 season with only two wins in 22 matches. Australian football is comparable to rugby and features two 18-player teams on an oval-shaped field, with the aim of kicking the ball through goalposts to score points.
Before Sheezel could celebrate his selection, he was the recipient of a slew of hateful comments on social media.
The Age, a daily newspaper in Melbourne, published a feature story Saturday highlighting Sheezel’s Jewish background. When the piece was shared on the news site’s Facebook page, it was quickly met with a series of antisemitic comments, including references to gas chambers and jokes about Jewish people’s athletic abilities.
Sheezel said the abuse didn’t faze him.
“I feel fine. I don’t let that stuff get to me,” Sheezel said, according to the Australian Associated Press. “Obviously the comments are disrespectful and wrong.”
Sheezel added that “the right action should be taken” against the commenters. The AFL announced it would investigate the incident, and The Age removed its Facebook post.
Dvir Abramovich, the chairman of Australia’s antisemitism watchdog, the Anti-Defamation Commission, said “the genie of antisemitism is out of the bottle” in Australia.
“The number of revolting posts that have targeted Harry Sheezel on Facebook is alarming, and points to a large-scale normalisation and acceptance of bigoted, hateful speech that is a hallmark of social media today,” Abramovich said.
Sheezel, who attended the Modern Orthodox Mount Scopus Memorial College, said he hoped to be a role model for the Jewish community. Ezra Poyas played in nine games for the league’s Richmond Football Club between 2000-2002, and Sheezel’s new teammate Todd Goldstein has a Jewish father.
“It’s really exciting,” Sheezel said, of becoming the newest Jewish player in the AFL. “I’m not sure why it hasn’t happened in the past, but hopefully I can be an example for these kids.”
Sheezel told The Age that he does not consider himself to be religious. “It’s just more of the [Jewish] community that I’ve involved in,” he said.