The conventional wisdom that politics should be kept out of sport, that sport and politics do not mix, is a myth propagated by an establishment for whom political engagement on any level, apart from that which involves passively entering a voting booth to put your ‘X’ in the appropriate box, is deemed a threat to the status quo.
In truth, sports and politics are two sides of the same coin simply because politics and life are two sides of the same coin.
When it comes to football there is no more political an institution than Celtic Football Club in Glasgow. Formed in 1888 by an Irish Catholic cleric known as Brother Walfrid to raise money to feed and minister to the material needs of poverty-stricken Irish immigrants in the West of Scotland — a migrant community whose presence was regarded as anathema to a native population and workforce on the basis that they were people of an alien religion and culture, competing for the same jobs and thereby lowering the wages of all workers by dint of that eternal law of capitalist economics, supply and demand. Apart from ringing the proverbial bell when it comes to Brexit, it reminds us that we live in a country and a society in Britain that has scarred the world with an Empire that sowed misery and despair on a grand scale when in its pomp, and whose legacy remains a distorting factor across the world to this day.
The consequence for the Irish in Scotland in the late 19th century was that their assimilation into mainstream Scottish society was blocked, forcing them to create their own social structures for the purposes of survival — material and cultural. Celtic FC came into being as part of this process.
Out of this history has derived a concrete identity and set of values that generations of Celtic fans have embraced, upheld, and carried with pride. Aligned with the republican and nationalist community in the North of Ireland, with their bitter Glasgow rivals Rangers FC associated with Ireland’s loyalist and unionist community, Celtic supporters are typically among the most politically aware and conscious of any demographic in society. For them Celtic is more than a football club it is a political and social institution, one that has always stood and must continue to stand for justice in the face of injustice, racism, oppression, and apartheid wherever and whenever it arises.
Which brings us onto the furore over the intention of Celtic supporters to fly Palestinian flags during the club’s European Champions League qualifying fixture against Hapoel Beer Sheva of Israel. Celtic supporters, along with the aforementioned republicand and nationalist community in Ireland, have embraced the Palestinian struggle against occupation and apartheid as their own. It is an affinity based on a shared experience of colonial oppression and the religious, cultural, and racial bigotry upon which it rests. Laid bare and Israel is a settler colonial state that exists at the negation of the Palestinian people, a people whose existence has been reduced to a living hell on a daily basis as a consequence.
Aside from an occupation that has been extant since 1967, the year that Celtic were making history in Europe, aside from the theft of evermore Palestinian land and resources, the expansion of illegal settlements, economic embargo, hundreds of military checkpoints making free passage impossible, and the erection of an apartheid wall; aside from all that the Palestinians have ben subjected to numerous full scale military assaults over the years, utilising the most lethal and destructive weaponry in existence, in which thousands of civilians, women and children among them, have been slaughtered or seriously injured and maimed.
The idea that those who carry Palestinian flags are anything other than people motivated by a desire to express solidarity with those suffering injustice and oppression, that instead it is antisemitism and racism which drives such people, this is utterly grotesque and deserving of contempt.
It is not Israel’s Jewish character that is the issue, as those who attempt to delegitimise the Palestinian struggle and those who support it continually maintain. It is Israel’s apartheid character that is the issue, and where better to demonstrate resistance to apartheid than in a packed football stadium alongside thousands of others.
The Palestinian flag is more than a national symbol; it has taken on the mantle of a symbol of defiance in the face of colonial oppression and apartheid, both of which the Ireland to which Celtic FC is historically and culturally rooted has experienced in its long and tortured history.
Sport does not exist in a vacuum and the struggle for justice cannot and should not be parked outside a football stadium for ninety seconds much less ninety minutes. It is why the attempt to ban the Palestinian flag from Celtic Park is tantamount to an attempt to ban justice from Celtic Park.
If such a ban is implemented and succeeds the rumbling that greets it will be the sound of Brother Walfrid turning in his grave.
There has emerged a new and ugly McCarthyism in our midst that if not confronted will ensure the ignominy and disgrace of the left in this generation and for generations to come.
Instead of fuelling a political witchhunt of supporters or sympathisers with communism, the modern variant of McCarthyism is fuelling a campaign to identify, smear and demonise opponents and critics of the state of Israel with the charge of antisemitism. The specific focus of this new McCarthyite campaign is the Labour Party. Even more specificially, its focus is the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party.
The resulting media storm over incidences of alleged and actual antisemitism by a tiny number of Labour Party members, uncovered over the past few weeks, is conspicuously absent when it comes to the existence and activities of Labour Friends of Israel, a faction within the Labour Party committed to building and offering political support for Israel, which by way of a reminder is a racist, supermacist, apartheid state founded on a programme of terrorism and the mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people between 1946-48. This ethnic cleansing and theft of Palestinian land has continued in the decades since, accompanied by illegal military occupation, home demolitions, siege, the theft of natural resources, and the periodic mass murder and slaughter of Palestinian civilians, including women and children, utilising the most advanced weaponry in the world today.
This aggressive witchhunt of ‘anti-semites under the bed’ we are witnessing is less to do with confronting a rising tide of antisemitism within and without the Labour Party, as important as that would be if it comprised the threat some are attempting to argue it does, and more to do with delegitimising solidarity with the Palestinians and their ongoing struggle for human rights, self determination, and liberation from the most sustained oppression of any people in modern history, outlined in the previous chapter.
It is the fact that Israel’s brutal subjugation of an entire people for the crime of daring to exist is allowed to go on year after year, with the support and connivance of the political mainstream in the UK and throughout the West, which leaves us in no doubt that those who have extended themselves in exposing and rooting out antisemitism are complicit in that subjugation.
Labour Friends of Israel counts among its members many of the party’s most senior politicians, officials, and donors. We are talking about the great and the good of a Labour Party establishment, people for whom Israel represents a beacon of democracy in a region beset by extremism and barbarism. The problem with this narrative, of course, is that Israel is a state whose democracy – democracy, that is, for the chosen few – itself rests on foundations of extremism and barbarism. This particular brand of extremism and barbarism, however, is packaged as modernity and security.
What these supporters of Israel are really responding to is not the recrudescence of the fascism-cum-1930s they would like us to believe is upon us. What they are responding to is the growing support for BDS and its success in highlighting the grotesque injustice that describes the day to day reality for the Palestinians, and in breaking through the political cordon sanitaire around Israel that had long prevented any serious challenge to its right to exist as an apartheid state. We know this to be the case because Western governments, still wedded to unconditional support for Israel regardless of its repeated violations of international law and refusal to budge an inch from the exceptionalism it has long exploited to be able to so with impunity, are intent on making boycotting Israel a criminal offence.
If allowed to obtain, such a legal stricture on one of the most precious of human attributes – namely the ability to act in solidarity with the victims of injustice – would constitute a monstrous violation of individual and moral conscience. It also lays bare the nauseating hypocrisy of those who speak the language of democracy and human rights while acting to protect and preserve the right of a particular state to trample both beneath an apparatus of oppression which stands as a rebuke to those who would have us believe that human rights are anything other than a gift to be bestowed rather than the universal rights enshrined in the UN Charter (1945).
Antisemitism is so serious, has led to some of the most heinous acts of human cruelty ever committed, that exploiting it in pursuit of censoring those who are committed to confronting the cruelty of apartheid and occupation in the name of its past victims, is the real offense. Here, it must be recognised that it is in the interests of Israel and its supporters to conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism in order to attack their credibility and to deter others from joining them. Indeed, given the growing traction of BDS, this now constitutes a key front in the struggle for Palestinian human rights and liberation.
In the last analysis, there is nothing more contemptible than bigots taking the moral high ground against bigotry.
Step forward Labour Friends of Israel.
By Matt Willgress and Paul Dobson
In contrast with western complicity with Israel’s attack on Gaza over the summer and ongoing attacks and land grabs since, Venezuela and its allies in Latin America are offering concrete help to Palestine, says Matthew Willgress of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, with additional reporting from Paul Dobson in Venezuela.
Venezuela’s Government sent a third consignment of humanitarian aid to the embattled people of Palestine this month. In return, they greeted 119 young Palestinians who are going to be trained to be doctors at the Latin American Medical School in Caracas, demonstrating that genuine solidarity does not consist of excellent speeches, heartwarming discourses, nor best intentions, but rather has concrete actions and deeds at its centre.
“If the 21st Century saw a fighting and brave country, it is that which belongs to the people of Palestine” stated Minister for University Education, Science and Technology, Manuel Fernandez at the sendoff of the aid.
“[Hugo] Chavez brought the love of Palestine to Venezuela and left this legacy with .. Nicolas Maduro” commented the Palestinian Ambassador in Caracas, Linda Sobeh Ali.
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There’s a demonstration tomorrow, 9th August, in central London – details are below. Let’s turn out in huge numbers.
As you’d expect, the ceasefire negotiations have produced nothing. Hamas, the legitimate elected government of Gaza, has said that a ceasefire which leaves Israel’s control as tight as it was is no ceasefire worth having – to go back to where we were a few months ago means constant shortages of medicine, constant threat of power shutdowns, constant drones flying overhead, frequent assassinations, continued destruction of the tunnels which are vital for getting food, animals, medicines and resistance weapons in (because, as Obama said, no country would tolerate missiles railing down on it, and would have the right to defend itself).
Israel and Egypt won’t give any ground. Literally, they are taking ground. Israel has snatched several more kilometres more of Gaza as a “buffer zone”.
As I write this, Israel’s slaughter campaign has restarted. Friends in Gaza are once again hearing the screams of children in their homes.
So we need to put more pressure on.
Contact your MP and make it harder for Cameron to do his “do not criticise Israel in public” nonsense.
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Excellent video of David Norris
Here’s a photo of the demo in solidarity with the people of Gaza held today, 19 July, in central London