In a move aimed at bolstering Israel's international image and ability to fight anti-Semitism, Israel will be joining European efforts to combat racism and violence at soccer games.
Sponsored by Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), a branch of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the action will target acts of racism and violence through a week-long publicity campaign at various soccer matches.
"By doing this, we are showing that we are fighting racism here," said Itzik Shanan, director of communications at the New Israel Fund (NIF), the organization that lobbied for Israel's inclusion in the event. "This will give us more weight to condemn others that behave in an anti-Semitic manner."
Arieh O'Sullivan, director of communications at the Anti-Defamation League Israel office, agreed with this sentiment. By allowing Israel to participate in the event, "it shows Israel is dealing with the problem [of racism]," O'Sullivan said.
In addition, O'Sullivan said that this summer's war in Lebanon had strained relations between the Israel Football Association and its European counterparts, and that cooperation between the two sides was an important step forward.
"[This summer] FIFA banned its teams from traveling to Israel because of the danger from the war. Allowing Israel to participate in this program is a good sign," O'Sullivan said.
The event kicks off on November 5 during a much-anticipated match between Betar Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa. Before the game begins, players will enter the stadium wearing jerseys bearing the FARE logo and holding banners with anti-violence and anti-racism slogans.
"Betar previously led our racism index," Shanan said, explaining the importance of launching the campaign in Jerusalem. He was referring to a survey done by the NIF to determine the level of racism exhibited by soccer fans. "We are happy that they were willing to accept the challenge."
Israeli organizers also hope to stymie a growing phenomenon among Jewish soccer fans.
"Recently Hapoel Tel Aviv fans have been using slogans promoting a Holocaust against Maccabi Tel Aviv," Shanan said. "They definitely shouldn't be doing that."
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