Saturday, 5 December 2009

Sport and humanity

Some brief comments and clarifying points on the pro-Palestine action at last Wednesday's match in Glasgow between Celtic and Hapoel Tel Aviv (see also background leaflet information).

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC)-led action was initiated solely in response to the visit of an Israeli footballing side. It was not, in any way, directed at or against Celtic as a club. The proposed flag-holding exercise was intended to express solidarity with the Palestinian people and send a clear message of such to the attending Israeli Ambassador, Ron Prosor.

The STUC's legitimate involvement in this action is in keeping with the overwhelming endorsement of a motion at its recent conference to adopt the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) agenda.

Campaign groups have every right to engage in such peaceful, educational protest. This action followed the same kind of reasoning and tactics used to challenge and isolate South Africa's apartheid regime. The STUC and pro-Palestine campaign groups should feel no regret over their attempts to expose Israel's war crimes and persecutions.

If, as claimed, some Hapoel Tel Aviv supporters feel empathy with the Palestinians, they should also be supporting such protests and the wider BDS campaign. In truth, the club's and its fans' opposition to the action and reported taunting of Palestine campaigners at the ground betrayed their true Zionist feelings. Hapoel's 'progressive' credentials, born of the Histadrut labour movement, owes more, in fact, to the defensive postures of Labour Zionism than any real solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

According to many of those condemning the action, nothing, no inconvenient truths, should impinge on sport. Our football grounds are too precious to have 'grubby' politics invade them, they argue.

While, Palestinian civilians - families, children - are slaughtered, taken out with merciless disregard by one of the most brutally armed nations on earth, some still insist that this is not the place to express solidarity with the victims. Where should we do that, then, if not at an event hosting an Israeli team and attended by Prosor, a principal defender of that murder?

The man tasked with attending sporting and cultural events in order to deny his country's war crimes and whitewash its blood-soaked image was welcomed and paraded by another criminal-in-suit, John Reid.

Reid and his corporate-wealthy board say their club is welcoming of all, and that they don't want political statements at football matches. So, was Prosor simply there for the football? Wasn't his very presence a political act of state protection, an outright exercise in Israeli hasbara (propaganda)?

Some fans have objected to their club being "hi-jacked" for political purposes. Perhaps they should consider more closely the politically reactionary influence of Mr Reid as club chairman.

Celtic's statement of opposition to the protest was not just about keeping the club 'out of politics' (or about the manufactured "safety concerns"). It was a politically-weighted establishment reaction.

If the cosy companionship between Reid, deeply implicated in the genocide of Iraq, and Prosor, criminally complicit in the slaughter of Gaza, is what passes for a 'politics-free football club', then I suggest a strong re-think on the general meaning of the word 'political' and the term 'politics out of sport', in particular.

The same reactionary message was all too evident in reporting the protest. Both Reid and Prosor were lauded by a slavish media as respectable gents while conscientious people handing out some paper flags in moral support of the oppressed were castigated as irresponsible nuisances.

Gaza lies in pitiful ruins, its collective people traumatised by mass murder, broken infrastructure and a relentless siege, yet it's the STUC and human rights groups who get berated for being provocative, divisive and troublesome. Sometimes you really have to wonder how people come to echo that kind of disproportionate response.

For useful explanations, consider the loaded media output before and after the game. From the Daily Record to the Scotsman, the protest was smeared and derided, with no ethical or humanitarian consideration of its point and purpose.

The BBC provided its usual 'impartial' service of consulting both sides, but the subtext was clear enough: "Middle East politics comes to Glasgow", announced the reporter on Reporting Scotland, as though Palestinian groups and the STUC were, somehow, importing conflict into places where it doesn't belong.

Radio listeners also lined up to attack the STUC for having the audacity to spend a little money on some coloured paper to highlight the world's oldest occupation and Israel's starvation imprisonment of 1.5 million Gazans. Again, what price compassion?

And, very sadly, some fans took it upon themselves to write and shout hateful abuse at those handing out the flags and leaflets. A few feigned sympathetic regard for the Palestinians, while insisting that, after all, "Israel is a democracy".

Others, thankfully, expressed some clearer approval or, at least, sought to understand a little more about the actual point of the protest - to publicise Palestinian suffering at the hands of an apartheid state.

Again, many fans, mistakenly, thought the STUC and Palestinian campaigners were singling out or targeting the club itself. As later intimated to us by one supporter, some also felt rather "used". So, perhaps we campaigners should reflect a little more on how better to convey the context and message behind such protests.

That said, Palestinian groups, the STUC and others have nothing to reproach themselves about. We all have a moral and, yes, political responsibility towards suffering others. Doing something about that injustice is called proactive compassion. Which means we have a civil, dutiful right to engage in peaceful support of the oppressed.

And no sporting ground or cultural venue should be considered sacredly exempt from those concerns and actions.



* (No football fans were harmed in the making of this protest.)

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