Rantz: Sounders struggle to stop fan displays of anti-Semitism at matches

Nov 12, 2023, 5:40 PM | Updated: 6:36 pm

A view of Lumen Field in Seattle can be seen during Leg 2 of the 2022 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions...

A view of Lumen Field in Seattle can be seen during Leg 2 of the 2022 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Final between the Seattle Sounders and Mexico's Pumas UNAM on May 4, 2022. (Photo: Steph Chambers, Getty Images)

(Photo: Steph Chambers, Getty Images)

The Sounders front office should be celebrating the team advancing to the Major League Soccer Western Conference semifinals after a 1-0 victory over FC Dallas Friday night. Instead, they’re working to find a solution to it’s anti-Semitism problem.

Heading into Friday’s match, the Sounders updated it’s fan code of conduct a second time. Despite bans in place, some fans were seen waving Palestinian flags and “Free Palestine” signs at its Oct. 30 game. The team said it heard from “members of our community that they did not feel welcome or safe due to violations.” Offenders were identified and given match bans.

Heading into Friday’s match, the updated code of conduct doubled down on the policy. But it was still broken by coordinated stunts with fans holding up signs with individual letters to read “Free Palestine.” Others chanted the phrase, too. Many fans are unhappy, vowing not to attend future matches until it’s addressed meaningfully.

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Anti-Semitism at Sounders match leads to possible third code revision

Going into Friday night’s match at Lumen Field in Seattle, the Sounders release statement noting that, “Any items that violate our Fan Code of Conduct will be immediately removed, and individuals that refuse removal of said items will be ejected from Lumen Field and issued match bans.” Neither pro-Israel, nor pro-Hamas or pro-Palestinian messages were allowed to be displayed.

Some fans began chanting “Free Palestine” around 8:20 p.m. Friday, followed by fans in the Hawks nest holding up signs.

“Sounders FC can confirm that after having those banners taken down in the north stand – which were in violation of our updated Fan Code of Conduct regarding this subject – we are in the process of identifying the involved individuals,” a Sounders FC spokesperson tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “We are following our policies and will use all available recourse to enforce them to keep Lumen Field a safe and welcoming environment for all.”

The chant and signage forwards erroneous claims that “Palestine” exists on land that anti-Semites believe is being occupied by Israel. They’ve used those claims to justify the Hamas terrorist attack against Israel that slaughtered Jews. Babies were murdered, women were raped, and elderly were burned alive, with the atrocities recorded and celebrated in Gaza and around the world.

The violators appear to be single match ticket holders, which makes these types of incidents difficult to investigate because the team is unlikely to discover their identities. The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH has learned the fans relinquished the signage when asked by Lumen Field security, but they have not yet been identified. Consequently, the Sounders are now discussing the possibility of updating their code of conduct a third time, with all options on the table. The easiest way to ensure compliance is to escort the fans out of the stadium the moment they violate the code of conduct. Punishing fans who don’t refuse to turn over their flyers is meaningless as they will have already made their political point when asked to stopped.

The front office is already feeling the impact on fans who do not support the Hamas cause. Internally, some Jewish members of the club are uncomfortable and wondering how the problem will be addressed. Fans, meanwhile, are expressing their anger.

Jewish fans and allies speak up

The front office has heard from a number of angry fans disgusted by the anti-Semitism on display at games. They’re angrily firing off emails or calls to the club. One fan, who asked not to be named for fear of targeting by the team’s most radical supporter groups like Emerald City Supporters (ECS), reached out to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. He’s said the displays have made him feel deeply uncomfortable, but he’s not necessarily shocked. ECS is known for displaying their radical views at matches.

“I clashed vocally with someone wearing a Free Palestine flag on his denim jacket. I sat down in protest at the ECS for the rest of the game and wondered around the concourse – surprisingly full – which I only ever do if I get really upset,” the fan explained to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “I’d leave the section but the buddy I go with who is similarly disgusted has been with the ECS since it was founded and I don’t think he’d like to go. We have our pre-game fun and rituals and favorite bar for our beers and dinner but we don’t do the March any more.”

To this fan, ECS leadership is a big part of the problem, even though the fans carrying “Free Palestine” signage were not in the ECS section.

“I think what gets some of us most is that there is no consultation with the wider membership and that these stunts are approved by a cabal of top leaders who have joined the BLM, Antifa, and now Free Palestine cause since really Trump was elected. His election sent all these supporters groups into a mission to establish wider fronts against the government. This is not and should not be the remit of the ECS and it is infuriating that they think it is,” the fan said.

Complicating matters is that rapper Macklemore holds a minority stake in the club. He’s previously been the subject of controversy for displaying a deeply anti-Semitism costume at the Experience Music Project museum. Guests were invited to “dress as your favorite music icon or video character” and he dressed up as a stereotypical Jewish caricature. He pretended it was a completely random costume, but few accepted that excuse and he apologized. Since then, he’s only double down on his Jew hatred, attending a radical pro-Hamas event in D.C. where he accused Israel of genocide.

Content from Jason Rantz: Jewish students targeted with swastikas, ‘gas the Jews’ chants

Supporter groups lean into activism

What happened at the last two matches will likely continue. No matter what they try to do, that the incidents occur in the first place will be enough to push more fans away.

Sounders fans, particularly within ECS, tend to be politically active, putting their radical activism ahead of the sport they proclaim to love. ECS and other groups are political social clubs that just happen to meet at Lumen Field because no one else will have them. They use their prominent spot behind the goal to spread far-left political views. It’s why the Sounders front office knew anti-Semitic messaging would likely become an issue.

Previously, the front office dealt with a similar issue, before the Antifa riots in 2020 and 2021, when ECS waved Iron Front flags in support of anti-police violence. After a brief ban in 2019 when Antifa launched coordinated attacks against conservatives, the MLS and Sounders relented, allowing the fans to celebrate attacks against cops by waving the hateful flag adopted by Antifa. All it took was a walkout during a match to see a political victory.

Not all stadiums allow Sounders fans displaying their radical views, of course. At the season finale in St. Louis, stadium officials banned the Iron Front flags, but members brought them anyway. After two fans were ejected, they insist they’re heroes for fighting against fascism, though all they ever do is virtue signal. How brave.

When I hosted the pre-, halftime, and post-game shows for the Sounders, when the team was a partner with KIRO Newsradio (KTTH’s sister station), the activists fans were unhappy. They routinely sought my firing, with some fan bloggers even childishly complaining when I was in the press booth. The support groups are ideological bigots and narcissists who put their politics above the game. While the front office never seriously entertained my dismissal (to their credit, they were always supportive and very easy to work with), I can’t imagine they wanted to deal with a political controversy.

Foreseeable problem for Sounders

The front office doesn’t make it easy to navigating controversies. But sometimes, they’re the ones responsible. Last season, the team created an uproar for publicly rebuking a player for holding a position it didn’t agree with.

Center back Xavier Arreaga posted a political cartoon to his Instagram account depicting a TV sending rainbows into the brains of two kids, while handing the boy a dress. Behind the kids, two parents were tied up. The point was to call out the media for trying to influence or confuse kids on gender identity. But coach Brian Schmetzer criticized Arreaga publicly and promised to have the player sit down with the team’s “equity network” for re-education. Schmetzer said that he “just make sure he (Arreaga) understands that what he said wasn’t correct.”

After the controversy, Arreaga, who plays for Ecuador’s national team, only started three Sounders games in 2023 versus 26 in 2022 and 25 in 2022.

When it comes to the anti-Semitism problem, the front office is in an admittedly difficult position. With the team’s most ardent supporters being politically extreme, they are triggered by any response that doesn’t allow them to display whatever messages they’d like. But the front office has relented in the past when trying to reign in the political messages displayed at games.

With so few meaningless consequences, activist fans learned they can continue to get away with their stunts because they know the front office needs them. The irony is that by putting such prominence on the supporter’s groups, and with the team and front office prominently displaying their own support for far-left causes like Black Lives Matter or reading a farcical land acknowledgment before every match, the front office has only ensured the club’s popularity has peaked. While proclaiming they’re inclusive, the front office has actually told people with different political views or identities that they’re not welcome.

Listen to The Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3-7 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast. Follow him on X, formerly known as TwitterInstagram, and Facebook. Check back frequently for more news and analysis.

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