The Polish Football Association is taking a whole lot of criticism for their social media behavior, but they’re still defending it. On Monday during a Euro 2020 qualifying game, Poland went up 4-0 on Israel (which would wind up being the final score), and the association declared on Facebook (as relayed by Poland’s Polityka) “Goooooal! This is already a pogrom! We are beating Israel 4-0!”
As Ben Cohen writes at The Algemeiner (“an independent media voice covering the Middle East, Israel and matters of Jewish interest around the world,” associated with a journal published since 1972), that’s made many Jews unhappy given the historical context of that word, but the Polish FA is still defending it:
The word “pogrom” — derived from the Russian verb “to destroy” — emerged in the late nineteenth century to describe the systematic explosions of mass violence targeting Jewish communities throughout Russia and Eastern Europe. Several pogroms took place on Polish territory from the 1880s onward, including what many historians say is the last such event to have occurred on European soil: the massacre of more than 40 Jews, many of whom had recently been liberated from Nazi concentration camps, in Kielce in July 1946.
But a spokesperson for the Polish Football Association (PZPN) insisted that the word “pogrom” was frequently used to describe emphatic sports victories like the one over Israel on Monday.
“Maybe in this match, [the word ‘pogrom’] was awkwardly used, because as you can see it raises unnecessary emotions, but that is in no way what we wanted,” the PZPN’s spokesperson, Jakub Kwiatkowski, told journalists on Tuesday.
And as Cnaan Liphshiz notes in The Times of Israel, while Poland doesn’t necessarily use “pogrom” specifically for anti-Jewish violence the way many Western media outlets do, many outlets in the country have applied it to other widespread violence. Liphshiz also mentions that this comes at a time of tense relations between Poland and Israel:
In Poland and elsewhere, it is often used to describe also other forms of bloodshed, including the so-called Galician Slaughter, or uprising of 1846. In it, Polish peasants killed hundreds of non-Jewish noblemen.
That violent episode is characterized as a pogrom in the Polish Szkolnictwo learning portal, among other resources.
Relations between Poland and Israel have suffered since the introduction of a law in Poland last year making it illegal to blame the Polish nation for Nazi crimes. It triggered a crisis with Israel, which argued it limits research and free speech about the Holocaust.
Perhaps the Polish FA didn’t intend to create these assocations, but they probably should have known that using “pogrom” in a match involving Israel would go poorly. And the way they’ve since defended this isn’t particularly great, especially as the comment led to a lot of people making offensive Holocaust references. An actual apology probably would have worked better. But maybe they and others can learn from this and refrain from using “pogrom” for “emphatic sports victories” in the future. That’s a word that is definitively associated with violence against Jewish communities for much of the world, and even if that association wasn’t intended here, the use of that word still caused a lot of problems.