THE current controversy over comments by Labour MP Naz Shah and former London Mayor Ken Livingston has opened up a welcome debate on the presence of anti-Semitism in society. It has also caused me to think deeply about my own experience as a Jewish Celtic fan.
I have been a Celtic supporter since I was 7 years old. I can still remember the first game I was taken to, we played Ajax in a friendly at Celtic Park in 2002! As a Zionist, a Jew and a Scottish citizen who opposes injustice in all its forms, there was only ever one team I could or would support: Celtic.
Outwith football I support other causes and ideals: I am anti-occupation and pro-self-determination, I believe that independence would be best for Scotland, that a Jewish state is necessary for the continued survival and progress of the Jewish people and I support a Palestinian state for the survival and progress of the Palestinian people. I don’t take those other causes with me to games.
Celtic is a club which rightly, prides itself on its culture of inclusivity, regardless of race and religion or political view all fans are members of the Celtic family and all are welcome. In recent years however, I have felt marginalized and excluded by a minority of my fellow fans who seem intent on using the platform our team gives us to fight political battles unrelated to football. I wish they wouldn’t do this, especially when it leads to divisions or intimidation between fans of the same club. Fortunately, the great majority of Celtic fans only express support, usually passionate support, for our team, when they watch them play.
Celtic is a club founded in Glasgow, in the wake of persecution of Catholics in Ireland. Caring about the persecuted runs deep in the veins of the club and the fans. This leads some supporters to identify with the Palestinian cause. The State of Israel was also born in the aftermath of terrible persecution and many Israelis are descendants of Holocaust survivors, while the Zionist movement was created in response to antisemitism across Europe.
Choosing to fly flags, whether Palestinian or Israeli, is to take the history of both completely out of context and reduce complex realities to superficial gestures. Flying an Israeli flag at matches would probably cause anger and offence since it would be seen as supporting the actions of the Israeli government against Palestinians. Yet for many, offense is caused by flying the Palestinian flag, which appears as an expression of support for Hamas in Gaza or the actions of Palistinians who have violently attacked innocent civilians in Israel. These symbols, so glaringly out of context at a football match, can leave supporters feeling marginalised and intimidated.
The vast majority of Jews, whether in the Diaspora or in Israel, support the existence of a Jewish state in some form, even though they may not agree with the foreign or domestic policies of the Governement of Israel. Criticism of Israeli government policies are acceptable and healthy; however, there comes a point where they can cross the line into antisemitism. When Israeli Arabs such as Beram Kayal and Bibras Natkho play for the national team and Israelis of all religions and ethnicities are elected by all citizens to sit in the national parliament, it’s difficult to see how can Israel be called an “apartheid state”. We all have our own political views, our party affiliations and opinions on a range of often contentious matters, from Scottish Independence to the EU. For the most part, we leave them at home when we come to a game.
Concern for the oppressed and the persecuted is noble and worthy, but to be consistent, shouldn’t we fly the flags of Kurdistan, Tibet, the Yazidis, the Rohingyas and the dwindling Christian minorities of the Middle East, not in place of, but as well as the Palestinian flag? Or should we instead leave these flags at home and enjoy our team, playing and hopefully, winning, as we all pray they will?
This is an opinion piece written by Andrew Morris and submitted to CQN for publication. If you would like to write for CQN please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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