The STUC call for Celtic fans to have a Palestinian flag protest when Israeli side Hapoel Tel Aviv visit Glasgow tomorrow night took me by surprise. Not that the STUC would call for solidarity with the Palestinian people – I’m a trade union member and know about the long standing links between the Scottish Labour movement and the Palestinian cause.
I just got a feeling that, well, sometimes it’s easy to get people to wave flags and then stand back and watch the fall-out. Let’s face it, we all know about how certain flags can be a red rag to football fans, sometimes even the football authorities in this country, and let’s face it, there are a few songs that get sung from the stands that quite frankly are reprehensible and racist.
But I’m not sure that the STUC, or any other public bodies, got much further than a limp condemnation of these matters. So why pick on the visit of Hapoel to Celtic Park this week for a protest call?
Hapoel have a fairly interesting history. They began in the 1920s and were associated with Histradut, the Israeli trade union. The word “hapoel” itself is Hebrew for worker, and they were seen as a communist club, and yes, they do play in red shirts.
Fans of Hapoel see themselves as a special kind of fan – political, socially-aware people who rail against corruption in Israeli society. While most of the banners at games proclaim undying loyalty to their team, they like having a go at rivals Beitar Jerusalem, a “fascist, racist” club in the eyes of Hapoel fans.
My favourite banner though was their “Say No to Racism” banner – well actually they had two. One written in Hebrew, and one in Arabic.
Maybe I’m being glib, but I get the feeling that Hapoel fans, the people who would bleed for their club, aren’t the kind of people who are going to be full-square behind the continuing annexation of Palestinian land. Dare I say it, some of them may actually be opposed to the way that Palestinians are treated in Israel. So why does the STUC think that a protest at tomorrow’s game is a good idea?
Got to say, I don’t remember the STUC calling for Rangers fans to fly Palestinian flags when Maccabi Haifa visited Glasgow a few years ago. And it’s not as if the political situation in Israel was a whole lot better for Palestinians then. Admittedly, there was a lone protester at that match – but he wasn’t a Rangers fan and I don’t think the STUC paid for his lawyer.
Do the STUC think Celtic fans are stupid? “C’mon Bhoys, show some solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians... youse are always greeting about oppression, they’re your kind of people... here’s a flag, and it’s got green and white in it...”
Football can bring people together, and politics can divide football fans, even those who support the same team, but there is nothing worse than politics hijacking other people’s events without being upfront about it.
If there is a Palestinian flag protest tomorrow night in the East End of the Glasgow, then any outrage afterwards – and there would be plenty – would be directed at Celtic fans, not the STUC who called for it.
David Coyle is a finalist in stv.tv's The Write Factor competition. The views expressed are not necessarily those of STV plc. If you would like to read more from this writer, use our comment system below.