The Australian Football League (AFL) told fans that an Israeli flag “should not have been permitted,” at a North Melbourne-West Coast game on Saturday, but later walked back that decision.
The Israeli flag and Stars of David were held by a young fan in support of Harry Sheezel, a Jewish player on the team. He has received a number of antisemitic comments recently.
According to Australia SEN, a senior AFL security official allegedly wrote in an email about the flag: “Once identified, it should have been requested to be seized/confiscated or the patron in possession requested to leave if they refused to surrender the flag.”
No offensive signage
It is reported that the AFL’s ticket and entry conditions state that patrons must not “wear or otherwise display commercial, political, religious or offensive signage or logos of any kind.”
Following the reports, Zionism Victoria wrote to the CEO of the AFL to express its concern and seek clarification.
“The Israeli flag is no more political or nationalist than any other nation’s flag, yet there are clearly examples of other countries’ flags being flown by fans at matches or displayed by players without any consequence,” said Yossi Goldfarb, president of Zionism Victoria. “If it is indeed correct that the Israeli flag is not allowed while others are, I fear there are double standards at play.”
Noting that some individuals may consider a ban solely on the Israeli flag as antisemitic, Goldfarb said that while he was sure that was not the intention, singling out the Israeli flag would “cause considerable consternation among members of the Jewish community.
Reaction by the AFL
“We have written to AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan seeking clarification, and look forward to discussing the matter with him so this issue can be speedily resolved.”
Later on Wednesday, the AFL said it wants fans “to celebrate their clubs and players and if that includes displaying national flags that amplify any of their team players’ heritage then the AFL is fully supportive. We should celebrate our players and the game any chance we get.”
The AFL went on to explain that the email sent by the official “was an incorrect interpretation of our conditions of match day entry policy and we apologize for any confusion.”
Restrictions, according to the statement, apply to flags, banners and signs “that have commercial and/or political messages.”
They concluded, “The AFL is proud of our diverse and wide-ranging backgrounds, faiths and origins of all our players and encourages fans to continue to celebrate it accordingly.”
Goldfarb said, “We are immensely grateful to the AFL for their prompt response to this matter and for allaying communal concerns. Their reassurance will come as a great relief to all Jewish AFL fans, in particular North Melbourne supporters, and indeed the Jewish community as a whole.
“As a community, we’re as passionate about our footy as we are about Israel. We also love Harry and we’re thrilled that everyone can publicly celebrate all aspects of the game and its players, including their heritage.”