Cardiff Council condemned for giving in to ‘thugs’ over scrapping of Israel football exhibition


The Israeli Embassy has condemned Cardiff City Council for giving in to “vile threats by a small group of thugs” after it removed an exhibition promoting Jewish-Arab coexistence through football in Israel.

Ahead of the Wales versus Israel European Championship qualifier on Sunday, a photographic exhibition called "Low football - Jewish-Arab football: diversity and coexistence through lower-league football” was to be displayed at Cardiff’s Central Library.

But the display, sponsored by the Israeli embassy, was scrapped barely 24 hours after it opened. It is understood that authorities may have come under pressure from anti-Israel groups.

Eitan Na’eh, charge d'affaires at the embassy, called the move “a surrender to the forces of extremism.”

Mr Na’eh said: “Tolerance towards intolerance is cowardice, and this is the unfortunate sight we witnessed in Cardiff, in the face of vile threats by a small group of thugs.”

He said “intolerant thugs” had called for the pictures to be taken down “so that no one might realise that there is one country in the Middle East where such co-existence exists.”

A spokesperson for Cardiff County Council said: “Following a complaint it was decided to review the material and the exhibit was withdrawn.

“The Council is aware there are protests planned around the Wales Israel game at the weekend and this was taken into consideration.

“Our libraries are buildings which promote free speech, but it was felt that running this exhibition could lead visitors to suppose that the Council was displaying bias. This is of course not the case.”

Adam Johannes, secretary of the Stop the War Coalition's Cardiff branch, said his organisation had not played any part in the move, but was pleased with the outcome.

"We had not directly contacted the Council, but we welcome the decision as we regard the exhibition as whitewashing the realities of football in the Middle East.

"The problem is that you obviously want to promote coexistence, but the exhibition was sponsored by the Israeli Embassy and didn't show the realities of football in Israel."

The president of the South Wales Jewish Representative Council, Stanley Soffa, said the move was "yet another example of poisonous and divisive anti-Israel activists showing their irrational hatred.

"Cardiff City Council should be supporting efforts to bring reconciliation between Arab and Jewish Israelis, not supporting the schemes of the boycott bullies to drive them apart.”

Sheila Gewolb, a Board of Deputies vice president and representative of Cardiff United Synagogue, promised that the Board "will be calling for an urgent discussion with the Council to ask them to explain this decision.

"The City Council's capitulation on this issue is a serious own goal. The proud internationalist image of Cardiff will be severely damaged and this does nothing to help the peace process.

"What message does it send to Arab and Jewish Israelis who want to make progress and make peace? It says, 'Cardiff is not with you. Cardiff prefers division and conflict'.

"Many people at Cardiff synagogues, who pray every day for peace, will wonder why we bother paying council tax if the City Council is just going to engage in counter-productive stunts of this kind."

Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb tweeted that Cardiff Council has made "a poor decision. Sport has a special role in bringing people together."

Judith Woodman, leader of the opposition at Cardiff Council, said she was appalled by the Council's decision which she described as shameful censorship, and demanded an inquiry into how it was made.

She told the Daily Mail: "Sport is non-political. We live in a democracy and have freedom of speech. By this action Cardiff Council have totally disregarded this.

"I intend to take matters further, not least with the Wales Audit Office. As a senior member of this shambolic administration I am aghast at what I have learnt this evening.

"It is a disgraceful reflection on our city."

She pointed out that "there were protests in Cardiff for the Nato summit, but that wasn’t cancelled or censored".

Anti-Israel demonstrations, organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Stop the War Coalition, are expected ahead of Sunday's match in Cardiff.

The Zionist Federation (ZF) and grassroots groups North West Friends of Israel and Sussex Friends of Israel have organised transport to the game for activists who want to support Israel.

A ZF spokesman said it would be taking 200 fans, with the majority planning to participate in a "pre-match celebration of Israel".

"Low Football" was created by two friends, Gad Salner and Vadim Tarasov, who travelled to football grounds across Israel to record the places "where the seemingly ever-present tension between cultures evaporates, and where diversity is embraced, encouraged and celebrated”.

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