celtic fans palestinian flags 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
However well or poorly Hapoel Tel Aviv performs in the next stage of its Europa League campaign, the club at least survived a hijacking attempt when it flew to the gritty city of Glasgow for its last qualifying match. Not an air hijacking, it should be swiftly added, but a fairly ferocious onslaught nonetheless.
The English humorist P. G. Wodehouse once memorably remarked that "it is never difficult to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine." On a bitterly cold night the Israeli team was up against a whole battalion of Scots with a real grievance - both inside and outside the stadium.
Hapoel had to contend not just with the Celtic team - eager for revenge on the playing field - but with a determined effort by the Scottish Trades Union Congress to turn the high-profile match into anti-Israel protest. The STUC tried to distribute 10,000 Palestinian flags outside the ground, which it incited the crowd to wave in the faces of the small cluster of Israeli supporters.
In the event, the Tel Aviv team got a reception not anywhere near as frosty as the Scottish weather. Match stewards intercepted the protesters and wrestled one of them to ground when he attempted to run onto the park toward the end of the game. The vast majority of Celtic supporters refused to play ball with the keffiyeh-clad comrades and just a handful of Palestinian flags were smuggled into the ground.
THE NEXT morning's match report in the Daily Record, Scotland's top-selling tabloid, stated: "The good news was that Celtic's people were not so bored or so restless that they felt the need to indulge in the STUC's hair-brained proposal to stage some sort of protest over the state of affairs in the Middle East... And thank God for that."
Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador to Britain, flew up to Glasgow to attend the match and said afterward: "Sport prevailed over politics. Since Hapoel was originally a team based on the Israeli unions, it seems ironic that people demonstrated against them."
Sense and decency didn't prevail just by luck. It happened because the officials of Celtic FC stood up to the pro-Palestine lobby's attempt to hijack the Hapoel match for a political demonstration. They expressed concerns about the possible threat to public safety and questioned whether the move complied with UEFA regulations.
Even more important was the stance taken by many ordinary Celtic supporters, who mobilized against the move on Internet message boards and blogs. A torrent of 635 comments flooded into the Celtic quick news site, with one blogger commenting: "They [Hapoel Tel Aviv] will receive the warm welcome all visiting fans get at Celtic Park... Welcome Hapoel fans, I hope you enjoy your stay in Glasgow and your team gets a good hiding."
It takes guts to take a stand for Israel in Glasgow, or anywhere else in Scotland. There has been a powerful pro-Palestine lobby in these parts from as far back as the early 1980s, when the young George Galloway twinned Dundee with Nablus and Yasser Arafat was almost elected as lord rector of Glasgow University.
The author takes great pride in having successfully campaigned against that move as the then editor of the Glasgow student rag. But anti-Israel sentiment has continued to rise in Scotland and reached a crescendo in April when the STUC called for a boycott, sanctions and disinvestment from Israel.
Subsequently, the Edinburgh Film Festival returned a grant from the Israeli Embassy in London after an outcry by the English agitprop director, Ken Loach, the moviemaker who rarely lets a good plot get in the way of political propaganda.
ALL OF this is extremely saddening to anyone who knows the history of Scotland, never mind the suffering of the Jewish people. Since the Protestant Reformation successive generations of Calvinist Scots have held a great affinity with the biblical nation. The Scottish Covenanters in the 17th century even seriously believed that they were created a "New Israel" in the harsh climate of Caledonia.
Their unholy descendants at Holyrood, the district of Edinburgh that houses the Scottish Parliament, would go along with the growing international consensus that Israel should be treated the world's number one international pariah. Not one of these so called "Bravehearts" was brave enough to stand up to the STUC.
One Conservative parliamentarian did put down a motion condemning the action, but he only did that after the match - and it didn't get passed by the Parliament. Only Steven Purcell, leader of Glasgow City Council, wrote to the STUC to express his "disgust" at its using a football match for political purposes.
Still, there is some satisfaction to be had from the fact that ordinary decent supporters of Celtic - a club has traditionally drawn much of is support from the descendants Catholic Irish immigrants to Scotland - stood up to the pro-Palestine lobby and extended a warm welcome on a freezing night to a group of Israelis. Once again, Glasgow lived up to its billing as the Friendly City.
The writer is a Scottish journalist and academic based in Dublin.