Soccer: Israel, England fans unite against anti-Semitism

Two sets of supporters will join together for a unique training session, run by coaches from Football4Peace.

A friendly game will be played between a group of Israel and England fans in Wembley on Thursday evening in an expression of solidarity against anti-Semitism. The event, organized jointly by Maccabi Great Britain and the London England Fans supporters group, will be held at Wembley Park Sports Ground, just a few minutes from the newly rebuilt Wembley Stadium where Saturday's Euro 2008 qualifier between England and Israel will be played. The two sets of fans will join together for a unique training session, run by coaches from Football4Peace, who spent this summer working in Israel. They use football to bring Jewish and Arab children together. The game will be followed by a fan forum, giving the group a chance to discuss their views on soccer. Organizer Mark Perryman outlined the thinking behind the game. "We each want our sides to win on Saturday, that's obvious. But football unites us too and, having had such a fantastic trip to Israel in March, off the pitch at least, this is our opportunity to both say thank you and unite against anti-Semitism," he said. In stark contrast to the hive of activity that surrounded the Israel vs England game held at Ramat Gan in March, besides the Wembley event, few enterprises have been planned in conjunction with the match this weekend. One reason has been the concern felt in the English Jewish community that the game is being played on Shabbat, with kick off at 5 p.m. local time, three hours and 20 minutes before the end of the Sabbath. Maccabi GB business and operations manager Dan Levy told The Jersualem Post his organization had intended to arrange more events, before they found out about the timing of the match. The schedule of games in Group E was decided back in 2006 after the draw was held and the Israel Football Assocation says it had no choice but to play the Wembley game on the Saturday. The London police refused to allow the game to be held later in the evening. "There is frustration from an organization point of view but we know there was little we could do to change it so there is no point arguing or petitioning," Levy said. Orthodox Jewish councillor Brian Gordon, a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, was far more vociferous in his criticism. "The fact that the game is on Shabbat has upset the Jewish community in England a great deal," he said. "Many people, religious or not, are very saddened by it. There is no question the interest in the match is much diminished." Gordon was at the forefront of a campaign to have the game moved, which ultimately failed and was clearly angry about how this reflected on Israel. "I hope Israel loses. The team doesn't deserve to win if it plays on Shabbat," Gordon added. "The national team is regarded as a flagship of the State of Israel, which is very much a part of the Jewish people. To desecrate Shabbat in such a public way, especially just before Rosh Hashana, and in a country with such a large Jewish community, is reprehensible."