Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Hate And War

Returning to the Ireland game on Saturday, I believe an attempt was made to hold a pro-Palestinian protest outside and inside the game. Well I'm delighted it failed (watching on TV in Budapest I saw no placards, so I take it that it failed). I shouldn't have been surprised considering the guff being spoken around the time of the game in Tel-Aviv.

Tom Humphries of the Irish Times, who I have enormous time for as a sports journalist, wrote a piece yesterday along the lines of... All these decades on and we have the new apartheid. Most of us haven't the energy or the cojones to stand up to it but the least we can do is not go chugging past singing "Football Not Politics."

We didn't even have a debate this time around about the necessary mingling of football and politics, about the implications of one state's representative team playing against another state's representative team regardless of what the other state represents.

Most of us had a few uneasy thoughts about the Israeli state when the draw was made and the fixtures were announced but we shelved them conveniently. Inside the ground on Saturday night, we old guilt-toting lefties were pleased to see a good scattering of Palestinian flags about the place. Some people had been more engaged than us. Thumbs up to them! We had a chuckle at the recordings of the two captains for Saturday night reading out a scripted statement for the Football against Racism campaign. Plenty of ironies there if you were a Palestinian listening in, heh, heh...

So here we are in this little country bedevilled by a history of occupation and religious extremism and acidic sectarianism and dividing walls and collectively we are chanting "Football Not Politics!"

My sympathies would lie with the Palestinians, to a large degree, though I'm inclined to blame the likes of Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt for their troubles from what I've read and seen. But it's obvious that, to most Europeans, the Israelis are the villains of the piece and that everything is black-and-white, cut-and-dried. I should be surprised that Irish people get taken in by this one-sided view, after the thirty years of pointless misery inflicted in our name by scumbags, fanatics and criminals but, considering the green-tinted glasses through which even recent Irish history is being viewed, I'm not one bit surprised that there's plenty of anti-Israeli feeling out there.

Whataboutery in Ireland is a right pain but I feel the need to engage in it here. Where were the protests when Ireland had to play Iran?... or Turkey?... or Russia?... or Serbia?... or Croatia?... or Saudi Arabia?... So why Israel now? By boycotting (or whatever) the Israelis in this instance we were asking our football body to make a political decision. That is not their job (they're making a piss-poor attempt at doing what is their job). The Palestinian supporters groups also tried to co-opt a (largely) ignorant football crowd with their version of the Palestinian conflict into a highly visible display designed to hurt and infuriate the people of one of the most embattled nations on Earth watching on TV.

Despite the latent anti-Semitism in Europe there seems to be no political will to stand up to Israel, if indeed Israel is as "guilty" as the likes of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Committee (Belfast-based, don't you know, but no relation to the Shinners I'm sure...) contend. Maybe that's because the situation there is not as clear cut as is being implied? Well if the EU won't countenance any sanctions against Israel, if they are not requesting Fifa or Uefa to penalise the Israeli national team for the actions of the IDF, and if our own government is not interested in such gestures of "solidarity", then the Palestinian supporters groups should go back to lobbying politicians or engaging Israelis in informed, balanced debate for our benefit. In the meantime they should leave our, and the Israeli, football teams alone.

And Tom should realise that there is no irony in protesting about tens of thousands of Spaniards making monkey chants at Ashley Cole and not protesting about a people (over?) reacting to the second threat to wipe them out in 60 years. (It is the stated aim of a number of Middle Eastern Islamic nations, and alos the PLO to wipe Israel from existence). Also, Tom should try and remember what happens when sport does get mixed with politics...
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