The Israeli national football team was welcomed on Sunday to Wales in a crunch European Championship qualifier in Cardiff.
Israel’s presence enraged anti-Israel activists who marched from the City centre to the stadium, but the protest failed to spoil the festival atmosphere as Israeli and Welsh fans united to counteract the anti-Israel demonstration.
More than 150 supporters sung, chanted and played Israeli music on loudspeakers as nearly 1,000 pro-Palestinian supporters reached Jubilee Park, a stretch of land which lies adjacent to Cardiff City stadium.
Arieh Miller, Executive Director of the Zionist Federation, which organised the pro-Israel rally, told the Jewish News: “We’re delighted to say we were able to bring over 100 people over from London to Cardiff to support Israel against Wales. As well as enjoying a fantastic day of football, we countered the false narrative of the BDS who preposterously accuse Israel of being a “racist” state. Our solidarity rally showed the true face of Israel, with placards and banners celebrating the most diverse team and country in the Middle East. Our volunteers also handed out 5000 fan magazines to Welsh supporters, filled with quirky facts that show Israel in a more positive, realistic light.
“The Israeli team itself is a fantastic representation of everything that’s great about Israel, not only Jews, Israeli Christians, Israeli Muslims, all playing together in one team. The irony of the people who are trying to get them banned from playing is that they’re looking to shut down this co-existence and collaboration.
“Today’s about Wales and Israel playing football against each other, it’s not about bringing politics into sport. The Olympic Games, every four years, has the Olympics Truce, where the UN declares a worldwide truce – that shows how the world should work with sport and in particular football – the beautiful game. Politics shouldn’t mix, it doesn’t need to come into it, yet unfortunately a few people do tend to bring politics into it which is a real shame.”
The protests were led by Football Against Apartheid (FAA), which states on its website it aims to “bring together football and activists campaigning against Apartheid.” It posted on its website the itinerary of the protest and the demands for Wales and the FA to support the call to expel Israel.
In an interview last week with Tazpit, Guto Bebb, a British Conservative MP for the Welsh constituency of Aberconwy, described the organizers of the protest as “idiots.”.
Denouncing the actions as “two-faced,” he went on to express regret about the reality that there are those “who will protest against a democracy in Israel but will not lift a finger to protest about Iran or China participating in the London Olympics.”
When asked about the planned demonstration, a Welsh government spokesperson, requesting anonymity, contradicted the goals of FAA, telling Tazpit that football should serve as a powerful tool for bringing people together while simultaneously expressing its respect for peaceful protest.
Christians United for Israel was at the game, which finished 0-0 and means Israel can still qualify for Euro 2016.