IPSC Off-Target With Protest

Via the SWP:

The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), supported by Eirigi, the Palestinian Right Institute & Irish Anti War Movement, will hold a peaceful protest at the Shamrock Rovers vs Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv game in Tallaght Stadium on Thursday July 15th. The protest starts at 7pm and will take place outside the stadium.

Well, now. I must confess that the tenor of discourse and polemics engaged in by the Irish left in relation to Israel occasionally makes me uncomfortable. The word “Zionist” I find particularly disquieting, even beyond the context of those crass “SMASH THE ZIONIST STATE” SWP placards.

Let me be clear about this, I believe the actions of the Israeli government towards Palestine to be fascist, racist and quasi-genocidal in character, and I believe the Israeli ambassador should have been invited to leave as soon as the passport thefts were uncovered.

However, the violent repression of an ethnic, sub-national or religious community is a doleful phenomenon that can be observed in every inhabited continent of the world. To characterise its Israeli manifestation as “Zionism” risks portraying it as a peculiarly Jewish perversion.

Returning to the vexed matter of the intersection between politics and sport, here’s what Freda Hughes of the IPSC has to say:

“Some people say that sport and politics should not mix, however we say that sport and racism should never mix – hence the theme of our protest, ‘Love Football, Hate Apartheid’. The IPSC would point to the sporting boycott against South Africa, which was one of the most effective tools employed in ostracising that state and revealing to the world its Apartheid regime and disregard for human rights.”

The problem with this statement is that there is no such noxious admixture of sport and racism involved in tonight’s game. Israeli football is relatively free from institutional prejudice, with some notable exceptions which I’ll come onto presently. The Bnei Yehuda players (including the young Arab midfielder Hasan Abu Zaid) are representing their club and the Israeli Football Association, not the Israeli government and state.

It’s fashionable in the Anglophone world to decry the actions of FIFA, but their meticulous work in maintaining a cordon sanitaire between football and state politics by prohibiting government interference in national football associations is what keeps international competition viable. Sure, it allows corrupt and self-serving bureaucracies to become impregnably entrenched, but that’s distinctly the lesser evil.

Arab players and even Arab teams compete on an level playing field in the Israeli Premier League, largely without victimisation from predominantly Jewish clubs and their fans. A rare exception is the case of Beitar Jerusalem, whose supporters are notorious for their vile and violent racist conduct. This conduct, incidentally, leads to frequent fines from the Israeli FA. Beitar have never fielded an Arab player, and I pity the poor bastard who gets to be that pioneer.

As somewhat of an aside, Beitar also provide an instructive example of the imperfect nexus between politics and sport. In 2005, the Russian plutocrat Arkady Gaydamak acquired Beitar, poured millions into the club and led them to the championship. In 2008, he ran for Mayor of Jerusalem. He garnered less than 5% of the vote.

Freda’s juxtaposition of Israeli state chauvinism with South African apartheid is also rather wide of the mark. Sporting resistance to apartheid began in earnest in 1957, when the Confederation of African Football invited founder members South Africa to compete in the inaugural African Cup of Nations.

The South Africans were adamant that they would send only an all-white or an all-black team. CAF insisted on a mixed team, the South African association declined, and were banished from African football until 1992. (It took FIFA, then under the stewardship of a fine upstanding Englishman in Sir Stanley Rous, rather than a Swiss bureaucrat, until 1976 to follow Africa’s lead.)

The next milestone in apartheid’s incompatibility with sport arrived in 1968, when the South African emigré Basil D’Oliveira, designated a Cape Coloured under the country’s racial laws, was (reluctantly) selected by the MCC in the England squad to tour South Africa. As with African Cup of Nations example cited above, this was a clear case of political prejudices being directly imposed upon sporting events. There is no parallel with tonight’s game.

Freda makes a more persuasive, though ultimately misguided, case for the protest when she addresses the matter of football in the West Bank and Gaza.

“Palestinian teams have consistently been refused visas to travel to competitions, and aren’t afforded the same training facilities and funding as Israeli teams. Restrictions on movement both within the West Bank and between the West Bank and Gaza further compound the difficulties that Palestinian footballers face.”

The behaviour of the Israeli state towards Palestinian teams and players is one more scandal to add to a rap sheet which runs to volumes. It is certainly an area in which FIFA should be exerting more muscular pressure. But it does not come within the remit of the Israeli Football Association (hence, the irrelevance of the remark about funding.) The Palestinian Football Federation has separate membership of FIFA and the AFC, and its own leagues and national team.

FIFA and UEFA very rarely put a foot wrong when it comes to keeping politics out of sport. One notable solecism was FIFA’s insistence, in 1973, that the USSR fulfil the second leg of their World Cup qualifying play-off against Chile shortly after Pinochet’s coup. Quite properly, the Soviets refused (although crucially, on the grounds that the match was to be hosted in the National Stadium where many of Allende’s supporters had been incarcerated and murdered, not because they objected to playing Chile per se.) The footage of Chile attacking an empty goal in that “game” is often shown whimsically on TV, with the political and humanitarian context skirted over.

The FAI, incidentally, had no such moral qualms when they sent Ireland to play Chile in that self-same stadium the following year. And it was Ireland which was guilty of another aberration in June 1999, when Fianna Fáil, scrambling to appease NATO in their war on the rump Yugoslavia, refused visas to the Yugoslav national team scheduled to play a Euro 2000 qualifier in Dublin.

Instead of kicking Ireland out of the competition, UEFA bottled it and rearranged the fixture. This was the second occasion on which reactionary forces in Irish society had objected to a visit by Yugoslavia; in 1955, Archbishop McQuaid advocated a boycott of a friendly international in Dublin in protest against the incarceration of Croatian fascist collaborator Cardinal Stepinac. On that occasion, however, the game went ahead.

It’s hard to divine just how tonight’s protest can be anything other than counter-productive. Targeted boycotts, such as that pursued against Veolia, certainly have their place. But the singling out of individual Israeli visitors for the innocuous and fraternal act of playing a football match is a gross miscalculation. It will certainly do little to persuade those young men, whatever their political convictions, that the siege mentality which their government would seek to inculcate in them is misplaced.

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5 Responses to “IPSC Off-Target With Protest”

  1. Emmet Ryan Says:

    Very well written post and points to possibly the only redeeming feature of FIFA, the urge to maintain independence from politics (admittedly there are benefits for FIFA in such a stance).

  2. Hugh Green Says:

    To characterise its Israeli manifestation as “Zionism” risks portraying it as a peculiarly Jewish perversion.

    But its Israeli manifestation is Zionism, that is, the specific ideology that racialises Jews and underscores all acts of expulsion, murder, terror and oppression perpetrated by the Israeli state against the Palestinians. And then there is Christian Zionism, which relates to (mostly) Americans who support the expulsion of the Palestinians because they believe the Jews should all go back to Israel so that the Second Coming can occur. I don’t think you can talk about what Israel is doing to the Palestinians without talking about Zionism, and I don’t think you can say to Palestinians in particular that they should describe what is happening to them as just one more form of racism.

    None of which is to say that ‘Smash the Zionist State’ is a good slogan (My response to this is: Why only the Zionist State?), or that ‘Zionist’ isn’t used at times to denote a particularly objectionable type of Jew, or that ‘anti-Zionist’ doesn’t sometimes mean ‘one who is very concerned about racism when perpetrated by Jews’. But to leave aside the matter of Zionism as a concrete historical force is to ignore a crucial element of the Palestinians’ history of dispossession.

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      An historical force, absolutely, but the majority of current Israeli citizens were born in the country, and grew up fearing (real and exaggerated) national and personal existential peril. Whether Zionism is still the motive force which impels Israelis to vote for vile fascist demagogues who promise “security” is very questionable (whatever about the motives of those demagogues themselves.)

      I just think that ascribing the cruelty of the Israeli regime to Zionism implies that it’s the result of a particular murderous kink in the Jewish psyche. Besides which, Zionism has a complex and fractured history. Similarly, whenever one hears the Western media describe a particular insurgency as “Islamist”, one can be damn sure there’s more to it than that.

  3. Hugh Green Says:

    Although it may have a complex and fractured history, with substantial differences between (say) Jabotinsky and Martin Buber, the dominant form Zionism is that which is clearly inscribed in the laws of the Israeli state. The state is the state of the Jewish people and not of its citizens, meaning that if you’re a Jew from Brooklyn the state is more for you than it is for a Palestinian from Nazareth. And it’s important to note that even if Avigdor Lieberman is especially belligerent in his declarations about what should be done with Palestinians inside Israel’s borders, this is by no means out of whack with the position of ‘moderates’ like Tzipi Livni. Don’t get me wrong, I agree the use of ‘Zionist’ can be dubious in certain contexts, but there are also valid contexts for its use in reference to the state in its present form.

  4. Bill Tormey Says:

    DublinDilettante’s post on football in Israel is informative and superbly written. Keeping politics out of sport is important but must have a moral compass. Having a go at the Tel Aviv team when they were in Tallaght is counterproductive for the reasons outlined in your post. Those wanting to make protests about Israel would be better employed outside the Israeli Embassy. The trip to Israel was informative for those Rovers fans who travelled. The attitudes of the security and some comments made about irish passports were instructive. So my sons inform me.

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