The Scottish Trades Union Congress has been widely condemned for “politicising football” after it handed out thousands of Palestinians flags at the Hapoel Tel Aviv/Celtic match at Celtic Park in Glasgow.
Campaigners from the STUC and the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign took 10,000 Palestinian flags to distribute to fans entering Celtic’s ground as an “act of solidarity” with Palestinians, almost one year after Israel’s operation in Gaza, Cast Lead.
Dave Moxham, STUC deputy general secretary, insisted that a demonstration at the game was justified.
He said: “This December marks the one year anniversary of the Israeli invasion of Gaza in which 1,400 men, women and children were killed in an act described by the United Nations as ‘indicating serious violations of international human rights’ and ‘amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity’.
“Israel also continues to flout international law through its illegal occupation, through increasing settlements and building its so-called security wall which separates Palestinians, family from family and community from community.”
Mr Moxham said he had written to both clubs, “outlining the reasons and purpose of this demonstration and making clear that we attach no blame either to Hapoel Tel Aviv players, nor their fans, for the outrageous actions of their government.
“We hope that Celtic fans will join with us in a demonstration of support for a just and lasting peace in Israel/Palestine based on a safe and secure Palestinian homeland living side-by-side with Israel.”
Mick Napier, chairman of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, described the flag initiative as a”an opportunity to let the Palestinians know that we have not forgotten their ongoing suffering.”
But the club strongly opposed the calls for a demonstration. Its spokesman, Iain Jamieson, said: “Celtic Football Club believes in football as a powerful medium for social integration. Celtic has always been a club for all people, regardless of gender, age, religion, race, politics or ability. We therefore believe Celtic Park is no place for a political demonstration”.
Outside the ground on Wednesday night around 60 volunteers from STUC and SPSC tried to hand out rolled-up Palestinian flags and anti-Israel material to supporters. But each campaigner was immediately surrounded by a large crowd, furiously debating the issue, with many fans shouting: “We don’t want you here.”
Match stewards approached the campaigners telling them to stop handing out flags and fliers on Celtic FC property.
Some flags were taken inside, though not anywhere near what the organisers had hoped. More than 300 Hapoel Tel Aviv supporters, with a dedicated high security presence, flew Israeli flags and banners.
At the end of the match a campaigner tried to run on to the pitch with a Palestinian flag. He was quickly escorted away by police, and booed by Celtic fans.
Steven Purcell, leader of Glasgow City Council, wrote to the STUC to express his “disgust” at their using a football match for political purposes.
David Links, a trustee of JNF/KKL Scotland, which hosted a reception for the Hapoel team and Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor at Celtic Park, is a long-time Celtic fan. He said: “I think it is totally wrong for the STUC to be involved in a football match. I feel disappointed at the fans who did pick up flags. There could have been serious aggravation here.”
Celtic fan Alan Levy said: “It was disgraceful to see campaigners handing out the flags. People didn’t even understand what they meant, and it was very worrying to see people accepting them.”
Israeli ambassador Mr Prosor said: “Sport prevailed over politics. Since Hapoel were originally a team based on the Israeli unions, it seems ironic that people demonstrated against them.”