Israel outrage after France 'bans flag' for Maccabi Haifa match

Israel outrage after France 'bans flag' for Maccabi Haifa match
French police in Strasbourg reportedly 'banned' Israeli flags during a match between Israeli team Maccabi Haifa and the local football club.
3 min read
26 July, 2019
Some say the ban could be linked to a reported rise in anti-Semitism [Getty]

French police this week banned Israeli football fans from waving their national flag in a controversial decision that prompted protests from government officials.

Police in Strasbourg also placed a limit on the number of Israeli fans allowed into the stadium, where Israel's Maccabi Haifa football team will play against host Strasbourg.

It was later learned that the ban applied to supporters of both teams and was only in effect on the city's streets, according to The Times of Israel.

But before then, the restrictions had already prompted uproar from Israeli ministers.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev labeled the decision, which was initially reported as a ban only on Israeli flags, "absurd", saying it was "unacceptable for a fan of an Israeli club to be afraid in a soccer stadium in France and be barred from flying the flag of Israel or their team".

Initial reports in Israeli media also alleged that only Israelis had been banned from wearing their team's jerseys and displaying other Maccabi Haifa symbols.

The confusion around the restrictions even prompted a response from Israel's ambassador to France Aliza Ben Noun.

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"While protests calling for boycotting Israel are allowed in the name of freedom of expression, the authorities are barring supporters of Maccabi Haifa FC from displaying our national flag on the sidelines of the match tonight," she said in a tweet.

A demand from Israel's Foreign Minister Israel Katz for the embassy to take immediate action against the ban led to the later clarification that both French and Israeli fans would be permitted to wave their national flags during the game.

"The embassy held conversations that made it clear that the directives prohibiting the gathering of supporters of both teams during the day in the streets of the city - including flag waving - were published by the governor of Strasbourg due to security considerations and to maintain public order, and they apply only in the squares and in the streets and not on the soccer field itself," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, a Jewish resident of Strasbourg related the "security-related" restrictions to a reported rise in anti-Semitism in France, as well as the large Arab population in the country.

While most fervently disagreed with the restrictions, one resident said: "There are huge problems in France, people are very passionate and charged when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 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 added 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 anti-Semitism, we do and our families do".