Following outcry, France cancels Israeli flag ban ahead of soccer match

The decision came just hours before Maccabi Haifa and Strasbourg match, and flags cannot be flown outside stadium.

July 25, 2019 21:12
4 minute read.

MACCABI HAIFA captain Muhamad Awad celebrates after scoring the first of his two goal in the Greens’ dramatic 3-2 victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv in Israel Premier League action on Monday night.. (photo credit: MAOR ELKASLASI)

Following a major backlash, the French policing authority and the Strasbourg’s county governor has reversed its decision to ban Israeli flags and limit the amount of Israeli fans allowed to attend the Thursday’s UEFA Europa League match between Maccabi Haifa and RC Strasbourg Alsace.
Earlier in the day, the county governor enraged Israeli soccer fans, not to mention the country’s Culture and Sport Ministry and its Foreign Affairs Ministry, when he limited the number of Israeli fans allowed to enter the Stade de la Meinau. The governor had said local police were concerned about ensuring public safety at the soccer match.
However, a little over an hour before the 7:45 p.m. kickoff, the French policing authority - known as the Prefecture - rescinded the decision, but made it clear that Israeli flags were only allowed inside the stadium and not in the streets or in public squares outside.
Following the initial flag banning decision earlier in the day, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev called the decision “unbelievable” and said it’s “unthinkable that a supporter of an Israeli team will walk around in fear in a French sports stadium and banned from carrying his team’s banner or national flag.” 
The Foreign Ministry said that from conversations the embassy in Paris had with the authorities in Strasbourg, it was made clear that the directives against flag waving by supporters of both teams in the streets of the city were due to considerations over “security” and “public order,” and that the restrictions are only in effect outside the stadium, not inside it.
Israel’s ambassador in Paris, Aliza Bin-Nun, said in her conversations with authorities in Strasbourg that the flag “should symbolize brotherhood and freedom between the two teams – two values of the French Republic that were being currently denied to the supporters of Maccabi Haifa.”
She called on the French government to overturn the decision made by the local authority to ensure the safety of Israeli fans. 
Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz instructed the Israeli Embassy in France to begin procedures to appeal the restriction on the number of Israelis allowed into the match and the restriction on displaying Israeli flags. 
“I hope to see many fans, flags and goals,” Katz said.
Jewish residents of Strasbourg had mixed reactions to the decision, with some citing that security was a big factor, while others felt the decision was unfair.
David told The Jerusalem Post that the banning of national flags was ridiculous. “It shouldn’t be limited, and as fans we should be allowed to show our colors and be proud openly."
“There are usually prohibitions during games, but nobody ever listens or abides by them. This is a racist move. It’s unfair that we have to hide our identity at the game, but others can do as they please. It’s wrong - plain and simple.”
Sarah said she believes that “France’s general desire to forbid all religious and differentiating signs is a mistake, and is the cause of this rise [in antisemitism]. On the part of the French people to want to differentiate themselves, to show their religion, their belonging to values whether ecological, economic or other [expressions]."
She added that because of this, French people “are terribly misinformed about who the other is,” and by removing such ideas “this will allow and install a greater climate of confidence and security than what the state tries to do with this strategy of indifferentiation and forced assimilation.
“Let’s cultivate difference and not indifference,” she added.
However, Yohanan called the flag ban “normal,” saying that “the French are known fascists and they do not like to see Israeli flags.”
“In general, to avoid any problems that can be caused by passion[ate fans] during the games, the Prefecture prohibits all types of flags.
He explained that this match “can be considered at risk given the international situation and the fact that France is composed of 20% of Arab and pro-Palestinian activists.
“The decree is not clear in relation to the Palestinian flag… This ban can be interpreted as permissive or non-permissive…. The administrative language does not usually aim at anyone, for fear of being considered racist, or as taking a stand.
Yohanan said however, that French citizens “do not care about these flag prohibitions, because as usual there will be Palestinian flags, as usual there will be BDS, and as usual there will be some Israeli flags.”
According to Ayala, this decision is somewhat “a question of security. There would have been risks of violence just because it’s an Israeli team playing,” and there have been problems in the past.
“They do not want the situation to degenerate,” she said.
One person, who spoke to the Post under anonymity, also advocated that this was all for safety and security reasons.
“There are huge problems in France, people are very passionate and charged when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said.
“We can’t give these people an excuse to attack us and be antisemitic against us, and walking around the stadium, the streets and waving Israeli flags does just that,” he continued, adding that it’s “all good and well for Israeli politicians to be angry about it, but they don’t have to deal with the consequences and the antisemitism, we do and our families do. 
“It’s better this way,” the fan said.
Speaking to the Post, Corinne that she wasn’t surprised about the decision either saying that there are prohibitions and laws in place about flags at such matches, adding that it could be about security.
Yet Daniel shared that it was unfair that other people in France, like the Algerians, have the right to express themselves at matches and get violent, but Jews, who do not do such things, can’t express themselves.
“The decree is racist and antisemitic. It’s a shameful decree,” he said.

Herb Keinon and Hagay Hacohen contributed to this report.

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