Monday, November 30, 2009


There is a soccer match coming up between Celtic FC (a Scottish club) and Hapoel Tel Aviv (Israeli). The Scottish Trade Unions Congress, generally sympathetic to boycotting Israel, wants to attend this game and protest Israeli policies by waving a bunch of Palestinian flags. Apparently subscribing to the Limbaugh/Klein school of thought, which assures its supporters that the targets of a political protest would be absurd to consider themselves targets of a protest, the STUC writes that they are "making clear that we attach no blame either to Hapoel Tel Aviv players, nor their fans, for the outrageous actions of their government."

That's good to know, because as it happens, Hapoel Tel Aviv is known as the quintessential left-wing team, and indeed is currently captained by an Israeli Arab. Hell, it's even rocking the hammer and sickle on its logo ("Hapoel" means "the worker"):

The team also sponsors the Mifalot project, designed to create interfaith and interethnic soccer teams to help bridge divides and promote peace (endeavors which the BDS campaign has come out explicitly and definitively against). I'm sure that Hapoel would love more international support for these sorts of bridges. I'm equally sure that the STUC has absolutely no interest in providing it, because the STUC has absolutely no interest in ending the conflict.

But sure, what the hell, launch the protest. Why seize the opportunity to express solidarity with a prominent Israeli institution doing the hard work of building peace, when it is so much easier and more satisfying to entrench hatred instead?

UPDATE: FC Celtic is reportedly quite unhappy with the proposed protest, and is urging the STUC to call it off. Their objection seems to be two-fold: first, they don't want their soccer game politicized, and second, they are concerned about safety in the confines of a crowded arena.


Andy DM said...

Hi David,

Although you call the STUC sympathetic to boycotting Israel no-one wants to boycott the Celtic - Hapoel Tel Aviv Europa League game on Wednesday.

At some point people have to be prepared to stand up and say that things aren't right. If it's not right for Celtic fans to protest now, what would Israel have to do to justify a demonstration.

The specific things being protested about are all to do with Palestinian's right to play the sport that Hapoel Tel Aviv are at liberty to play.

* In the first round of qualification matches for the 2010 World Cup, Palestine had to play Singapore in a home and home series (this was back in 2007, it's a long road to the World Cup Finals). Palestine were forced to play their home tie in Qatar, losing 0-4. The occupying authorities then refused to let some members of the team leave Gaza, causing Palestine to have to forfeit the second match in Singapore and therefore be eliminated from the World Cup.

* The following year, another tournament, this time the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Challenge Cup. This tournament is mainly for lower ranked nations in Asia so it's possible for a team like Palestine to do quite well. Qualification was in May 2008 with a four-team tournament in Cambodia, finishing in the top two there would place them in the final eight in India that July/August. But again, the team weren't allowed to travel, having to withdraw from the tournament. (It would be fair to say that the team was allowed to attempt to qualify for the 2010 AFC Challenge Cup this year)

* Because some Palestinian players are in Gaza, some in the West Bank and some in the diaspora it is impossible to get the team together for training and coaching which undoubtedly contributes to the poor performance of the team.

* On the border into Gaza, the Israeli authorities ban footballs from being imported into the territory, that can't help either.

* Finally, the football stadium on the outskirts of Ramallah. Two years ago, Sepp Blatter (the President of football's world governing body) laid the foundation stone of a new stadium, the stands are financed by France and Germany. The hope was that with a proper stadium, Palestine would be able to play competitive internationals at home (the reason they don't at the moment is they have no stadium that meets FIFA or AFC standards, though they have played a couple of friendly matches against Jordan). Last month, the occupying authorities decided that the stadium was on the wrong bit of land and stopped work on the construction, threatening to pull down the parts already built.

David, I don't see how you think this is all okay, if this is not hitting the level where a demonstration is justified, then what is that level?

PG said...

DM Andy,

What is your basis for assuming that the STUC protest is about what you're discussing, instead of about what STUC Deputy General Secretary Dave Moxham said it was about: "the Israeli invasion of Gaza" and the settlements and security wall? Why is your explanation a more valid statement of the motive for the protest than that of the person speaking for the group organizing the protest?

Andy DM said...

PG, from the SPSC article about the protest and the leaflet

Andy DM said...

As that web address was a little long here's their leaflet. (Note this is SPSC, not my words, I wouldn't stand by everything there.)

Israel attacks Palestinian sports facilities, bombed Gaza stadium

Israel usually prevents the Palestinian team from competing:

Before the last World Cup, Israel forced Gaza players to wait weeks at the Israeli-controlled Rafah border to join their West Bank team-mates for training - in Egypt!

Stopped from travelling to play a World Cup qualifier in Singapore in 2007, they were eliminated for failing to turn up. FIFA refused to allow them to re-schedule.

The team were barred from travelling to India in May 2008 for the AFC Challenge Cup with possible qualification for the 2011 Asia Cup.

The Palestinian National Youth Football Team was barred from re-entering Gaza for over a month after they competed in Jordan in June 2007.

The British government helped Israel by refusing visas to enter Britain for a tour - the official reason being that the Palestinian players were ‘too poor to be trusted to return home’. (These are the most tenacious people in the world in clinging to their homeland despite massive Israeli violence!)

The team are usually forced to play "home" matches in a virtually empty stadium - abroad.

Israel allowed the Palestinian national team one single match on home soil, in October 2008 but not in Jerusalem and team captain, Saeb Jundiya, was barred from leaving Gaza.

During Israel’s assault on Gaza three Palestinian players were killed in their homes by Israeli bombs: Wajih Mushtahi, Khalil Jaber and Ayman Alkurd (pictured).

Israel bans footballs (as well as pasta and coffee) from entering Gaza!

Israel claims footballs, pasta and coffee could be used for military purposes. The real purpose is to cause hunger and misery to the people of Gaza.

Most Palestinians are refugees, victims of earlier waves of Israeli ethnic cleansing, and exile means they are unable to participate in the national sporting institutions of their country.

Palestinian children play football in fear of Israeli snipers who may decide at any time to have some fun. A few examples of child-killing for sport:

"The Israeli army claimed that the soldiers shot dead 11 year old Khalil in self-defence. However, a report issued by the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, denies the Israeli army’s claims and accuses it of lying. Its investigation confirms that the 11 year old victim was playing football on 14 November 2001 with his friends when he was fatally shot."
"Among the latest victims of apparently indiscriminate shooting were three teenagers and an eight-year-old, Yousef Abu Jaza, hit in the knee when soldiers shot at a group of children playing football in Khan Yunis…I can't imagine anyone who considers himself a human being can do this” Chris McGreal, July 28, ‘03. The Guardian

Killing of three Gaza youths puts ceasefire under strain - Teenagers playing football shot in border zone. Chris McGreal, April 11, ‘05. The Guardian

Israeli forces shoot Palestinian boy dead as he plays football.
Donald Macintyre, 02 July ‘04. The Independent

"Yesterday at this spot the Israelis shot eight young men, six of whom were under the age of eighteen. One was twelve. This afternoon they kill an eleven-year-old boy, Ali Murad, and seriously wounded four more, three of whom are under eighteen. Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered—death squads gunned them down in El Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with infants were lined up and massacred in Algeria, and Serb snipers put children in their sights and watched them crumple onto the pavement in Sarajevo—but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport."
Chris Hedges reported for Harpers Magazine from Israeli-controlled Rafah in 2001

David Schraub said...

The STUC isn't protesting "Israel", nor are they even protesting the Israeli national team. They're protesting a game by Hapoel Tel Aviv -- a team that not only has nothing to do with all the bad things you allege, but actively works against them. It'd be like me protesting a local match featuring a Palestinian club team run by Sari Nusseibeh because I oppose the Hamas charter. It's completely mismatched, being purely guilt by association, and actively serves to undermine the cause of peace.

If Israel does wrong, protest at the Israeli embassy. Don't protest at Jewish community centers. Don't protest random Israeli soccer clubs who oppose the policies you're protesting. Because that implies essentially that a Jew is a Jew -- it doesn't matter what they think, they're all fair game for the expression of moral hatred because they are in some way tied to alleged wrongdoing.

The point is that the STUC privileges aggressive protest against Israeli institutions (regardless of that institution's substantive positions) over, you know, fostering peace. Where the former conflicts with the latter -- as it does here -- they happily choose the former, because I genuinely don't think they find the latter all that interesting (it's certainly far less glamorous).

At some point people have to be prepared to stand up and say that things aren't right. If it's not right for Celtic fans to protest now, what would Israel have to do to justify a demonstration.

Putting aside the incongruity latent in "what would Israel have to do to justify a demonstration" being somehow the relevant question for protesting, not Israel, but Hapoel Tel Aviv (maybe we should ask what they would have to do to avoid being protested -- since apparently the default status of a Jewish-identified institution is "a valid target for protest"), I offer one of my favorite quotes:

"We are all Expressionists part of the time. Sometimes we just want to scream loudly at injustice, or to stand up and be counted. These are noble motives, but any serious revolutionist must often deprive himself of the pleasures of self-expression. He must judge his actions by their ultimate effects on institutions." --Herbert Simon, Models of My Life 281 (1991).

Andy DM said...

David, my granddad would never go to Spain on holiday when Franco was in charge. Now the hotel he didn't visit wasn't owned by fascists, the fact that he wouldn't visit didn't harm the Spanish state in any way. But it was still the right thing to do. Something doesn't have to be effective to be the right thing to do. But in this case, it may well have an effect.

If some Scottish trade unionists did a demonstration a couple of blocks away from the Israel Embassy (as close as protest is allowed to go) then it simply wouldn't make the news. There's protests there most weeks. But a soccer match is different. For a start the Israeli Ambassador to the UK is planning to be there, secondly, the match is being shown back in Israel.

When people protested against the sporting tours of South African teams many White South Africans didn't like it much and it did harden attitudes but it did let Black South Africans know that at least there was some people who did care about their plight. Maybe the Celtic Park protest will have the same positive effect.

Finally, I'm a little disturbed by your use of allegedly in reference to my comment. If you dispute anything I said then feel free to dispute it but please don't suggest I've told an untruth.

PG said...

DM Andy,

Same question applies. Why is SPSC's explanation a more valid statement of the motive for the protest than that of the person speaking for the group organizing the protest?

Andy DM said...

PG, it doesn't, but I argue that the official reasoning for the protest is what's on the leaflets promoting the protest.

Feel free to counter the point.

David Schraub said...

An allegation is an assertion that has not been proven true. It isn't necessarily false either -- it just hasn't been proven true (in a court of law or anywhere else) to a degree of satisfaction that renders it worthy of punitive sanction. There are cases where allegations like this (against Israeli actors or others) have been borne out, and cases where they've been false, and cases where they've been misunderstandings. Without any conclusive proofs in the matter, I think it is fair to characterize "murder[ing] them [children] for sport" as an allegation. I'm a bit disturbed that you find a rejection of "guilty until proven innocent" as a moral failing on my part. Perhaps it is more an example of how broadly accepted ethical principles are jettisoned without thought when the subject is Jews? Indeed, I'd say this moral inversion is thematic over this entire debate. Hapoel is legitimately protested even though it clearly is a source for reconciliation between Jews and Arabs. Jews in South Africa are presumed to be evil unless they "prove themselves humane". Hugo Chavez also responded to violence against Jews by demanding they adopt specific political lines. What is being established here is a default rule that Jews are legitimate targets of hatred, unless they take significant (but unclear, because one would think Hapoel would easily qualify) affirmative steps to render themselves "good Jews". That's the sort of classic reactionary bullshit that has taken over much of the union elite in the UK. Why on earth should I accede to such naked racism directed at me without a fight?

I'm quite happy to call myself a consequentialist with regards to pursuing justice and social change (I'll also note that Naomi Klein, at least, locates the BDS campaign as being consequentialist rather than deontological in orientation: "a tactic, not a dogma"). The reason is simple: I think it is selfish and arrogant to the extreme to take actions that qualitatively harm the group or cause you're "supporting" just so you can feel better about yourself ("stand up and say that things aren't right"). Consequently, I view the sole framework of whether a protest such as this is just as whether it a) leads to some social benefit that b) is worth the imposition of punitive action against the target of the sanction. (I'd make an exception where "a" and "b" are both negligible, but that isn't the case here).

David Schraub said...

In this framework, the STUC protest not only fails, it fails clearly. Start with the simple empirical point that tactics such as this have not only never once succeeded in pushing Israel leftward, they've in fact been most effective at bolstering the Israeli right (an effect which I doubt is accidental, as radical anti-Israeli protesters and the Israeli right are symbiotic on one other, and given my belief that the STUC cares far more about the glory of protest than it does about actually effectuating social change, it makes sense for them to act in ways that create conditions for them to protest. It's delightfully self-affirming). Israel has faced, since 1948, a consistent policy in some circles of isolation and demonization; these policies have had incontrovertible negative effects in terms of Israel's policies (again, unsurprising: nation's act defensively towards entities which outwardly proclaim themselves to be hostile towards it). That the Israeli ambassador is attending the game does not diminish this effect, it magnifies it.

That blows apart "a". "B", too, is completely alien to this protest. As noted, Hapoel Tel Aviv does exactly the sorts of things we'd want an Israeli entity to do vis-a-vis the region's Arab population. To target it for protest anyway is not like targeting a random Spanish hotel -- it's like refusing to meet with Spanish democratic partisans because doing so "legitimizes Franco". It's self-evidently absurd, and frankly, you know it is.

Finally, lets dispense with the claim that such a protest might be valuable, regardless of how it impacts Israeli public opinion, because it might bolster Palestinian morale (an argument made -- poorly -- by Desmond Tutu). Put aside the distinction between that which alienates the ruling tiny minority (as in South Africa) and that which alienates a democratic majority (as in Israel). Note that this argument -- in that it is explicitly disconnected from either the culpability or the effects on the target, can and has been used to sanction any "solidarity" measure, up to and including massacres of Jewish athletes (making it particularly terrifying to see it deployed in the context of an athletic contest). This is why it is bad to disconnect punitive measures from the culpable of the subject of the action -- it replaces proportionality with moral hatred. You can say "oh, I don't support violence against innocent Jews", to which I say "why not?" It can't because their not wrongdoers -- you've already established that as irrelevant. It can't be because they don't deserve it -- you've already told us they're not the relevant moral subjects. It can't be because it will enrage the Jewish community -- you've already established that they're not the target audience. It can't be because the consequences are bad -- you're not a consequentialist!

So why would you support one "morale boost" over another? Because you're squeamish. Luckily, others are less so, and they appreciate the moral foundations you're laying for mass killings.

PG said...

"official reasoning for the protest is what's on the leaflets promoting the protest. Feel free to counter the point."

Why is that the official reasoning? Anyone can make a leaflet. (I assume; perhaps Scotland has no free speech and only those who are organizing a demonstration are allowed to make leaflets about it.)