Soccer and terrorism: what UEFA needs to know [updated]

Thanks to an energetic campaign by anti-Israel activists, even someone like me who doesn’t really keep up with sports and soccer news can know that this year’s UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals are scheduled to take place in Israel this June.

Naturally, the BDS-crowd that wants Israel held to bigoted double standards can’t stand the idea, and at sites like the Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah and friends have begun to churn out their usual fare of propaganda, petitions and piffle to rally the BDS-faithful for yet another campaign.

When it comes to football, it’s perhaps particularly easy to illustrate that BDS is indeed all about applying bigoted double standards to Israel.  After all, while there have been displays of despicable racism by Israeli football fans, very similar problems have long plagued the sport in Europe and elsewhere, as even the title of this BBC analysis from 2000 nicely illustrates: “Soccer violence an international problem.”

Yet, the BBC and other media outlets like nothing better than to report over and over again on the transgressions of Israeli fans. But when Egyptian football fans display a huge banner calling for a new Holocaust, it’s not worth mentioning. Similarly, there is no interest when Jibril Rajoub, the President of the Palestinian Football Federation and the Palestinian Olympic Committee elicits chuckles and roaring applause when he promises that he will provide helicopters for visiting committee members “so they will see no Jews, no Satans, no Zionist sons of bitches.”

Given the determined disinterest of the media in reporting anything that might show the pervasive demonization of Jews and Israel among Palestinians, the activists who want to pressure UEFA into boycotting Israel take no risk when they use Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak to push their campaign. And the BBC is there to help: as blogger Adam Holland noted in a post last July, the BBC “reported on Israel’s release of Mahmoud al-Sarsak and his return to Gaza, portraying him as a hunger-striking soccer player who was never formally charged with a crime. […]  All that is true, of course, but only a partial recounting of the facts.”

Holland goes on to quote a related AP report:

“Dozens of Islamic militants fired rifles in the air Tuesday in a rousing homecoming for a member of the Palestinian national soccer team who was released by Israel after being held for three years without formal charges.

The player, Mahmoud Sarsak, 25, had staged a hunger strike for more than 90 days to press for his release, winning support from international sports organizations.

Israel accused Sarsak of being active in the violent Islamic Jihad group, a charge he denied while in custody.

However, senior Islamic Jihad officials were present during a welcoming ceremony for him in Gaza City on Tuesday, and one of the group’s leaders, Nafez Azzam, praised the soccer player as ‘one of our noble members.’

Later Tuesday, as Sarsak approached his family home in the Rafah refugee camp, dozens of Islamic Jihad gunmen fired in the air from SUVs and motorcycles. Women waved black Islamic Jihad banners from nearby homes and streets were decorated with huge photos of the player.”

Combining soccer and terrorism isn’t all that unusual for Palestinians, as documented by this very long list of sport events, programs and facilities named after terrorists. Football events on this list include a youth tournament in August 2012 named after three terrorists who murdered a 45 year-old father of 7; another football tournament for youth in March 2011 named after the first Palestinian female suicide bomber Wafa Idris who used her position as a volunteer for the Palestinian Red Crescent to bypass Israeli security; the May 2010 “Shahid…Abu Al-Qassam…tournament for security services teams;” and the regularly held “Abu Jihad football tournament.”

Beyond using sport events to honor terrorists, sport facilities have also been used to store weapons and explosives and to launch rockets targeting Israeli civilians.

 Gaza stadium

Screenshot IDF tweet

But needless to say, the fact that Gaza terrorists use a stadium to fire missiles on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem doesn’t prevent the likes of Ali Abunimah to accuse Israel of wantonly destroying the stadium and demanding that therefore, “Israel must not host UEFA tournaments” – and of course, Abunimah is not at all embarrassed to back up his call by referring to Mahmoud Sarsak, one of Islamic Jihad’s “noble members.”

But indeed, why should Abunimah be embarrassed to promote an Islamic Jihad member cynically appealing to “people of conscience”? When it comes to the Palestinians, anything goes: the Palestinian Authority (PA) was not even embarrassed to honor Amin Al-Hindi, one of the senior planners of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, with “an imposing official military funeral.” As one commentary in the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida put it when Al-Hindi passed away in August 2010:

“Everyone knows that Amin Al-Hindi was one of the stars who sparkled at one of the stormiest points on the international level – the operation that was carried out at the [Olympics] sports stadium in Munich, Germany, in 1972. That was just one of many shining stations.”

Given this unabashed veneration for the planners of the Munich massacre, it is all the more disgraceful that Jibril Rajoub – the man who wants to see “no Jews, no Satans, no Zionist sons of bitches” – claimed that commemorating the 40th anniversary of this atrocity would amount to “racism.” But of course, the western media had no interest in finding out how Palestinian authorities and Palestinian society today view the terror strike at the Munich Olympics – after all, it wouldn’t have been all that pleasant to acknowledge the official Palestinian praise for the “stars who sparkled” so gloriously in the Munich massacre.

Naturally, the BDS activists who try to pressure UEFA into boycotting Israel also have nothing to say about the pervasive glorification of terrorism, and the cooperation with terrorism, that is so common in Palestinian sport.  But whether it is sports or any other area, BDS always means bigoted double standards: grotesquely magnifying Israeli problems that are not dissimilar to shortcomings in other countries, while ignoring gross abuses by Palestinians.

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Update:

Since I first posted this, I realized that there could be almost daily updates to this story. Here’s just one from The Guardian’s Comment is free (Cif), written by Cif blogger Giles Fraser whose posts get filed under “belief” in Fraser’s “Loose canon” series….

Under the headline “Why Theodor Herzl’s writings still have an urgent message,” Fraser writes about antisemitic chants by Hungarian football fans and other recent manifestations of antisemitism in Hungary; he then goes on to argue that because of such incidents, “re-reading Theodor Herzl’s The Jewish Question in a Budapest cafe, opposite the astonishingly beautiful Dohány Street Synagogue, feels, once again, so topical.”

And just a few hours ago, Robert Mackey of the NYT Lede blog found it worthwhile to post a tweet about some Palestinian youngsters who protested a planned game by the Barcelona club in Tel Aviv.

Mackey Pal soccer

 As the link tweeted by Mackey explains oh-so-helpfully:

“11 soccer playing youths from Bil’in torched 11 FC Barcelona football jerseys at the Apartheid-Annexation Wall in disgust at that club’s proposed playing of an exhibition game in Israel’s national stadium, Tel Aviv, on July 31st. FC Barcelona is a serial offender in normalising the occupation, toadying up to Israel and drawing an equivalence between colonised and colonizer, victim and victimiser. As the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) put it: Cultural events and projects involving Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis that promote ‘balance’ between the ‘two sides’ in presenting their respective narratives, as if on par, or are otherwise based on the false premise that the colonizers and the colonized, the oppressors and the oppressed, are equally responsible for the ‘conflict,’ are intentionally deceptive, intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible. Such events and projects, often seeking to encourage dialogue or ‘reconciliation between the two sides’ without addressing the requirements of justice, promote the normalization of oppression and injustice.”

I could be COMPLETELY wrong, but somehow I suspect that Mackey hasn’t yet shown any interest in the rampant racism and glorification of terrorism that is sadly such an integral part of Palestinian sport.

* * *

h/t Adam Holland for the Mackey tweet.

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