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Football Fans Against Genocide

A recent Guardian article has tried to slander pro-Palestinian Arsenal fans as intimidating racist thugs. But these slanders will not stop people organising against genocide, writes a Jewish pro-Palestinian protester.

(Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Like any football fan, I’m used to hearing differing takes on the same event. Nevertheless, I was surprised to read the Guardian’s report on those who gathered outside the Arsenal vs Tottenham Women’s Super League game last Saturday to protest the genocide in Gaza. According to the report, protesters were intimidating enough to scare dozens of fans into going home without seeing the match, with fans feeling too ‘unsafe’ to attend the game.

Even by the Guardian’s standards, the dishonesty is shocking. Unlike the report’s author, I attended both the protest and the game. About 45 minutes before kick-off, around forty people gathered by the Thierry Henry statue to unveil a banner calling for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine and an end to genocide. After a few chants of ‘Free Palestine’, watched by several police officers, the protesters put their banner away and went to the game.

During the game itself, a separate banner calling for Arsenal to cut its ties with Barclays bank was unfurled. It was almost immediately taken down by stewards, who told the protesters they had to leave. As this was happening, a young Arsenal fan sitting below me astutely asked, ‘why do the Palestine flags have to go, but the Ukrainian flags can stay?’

For fans angry at the slaughter of Palestinians, the Women’s Super League is a clear target. This is because its main sponsor is Barclays. Research has shown that the bank, which also funds the Premier League, holds over £1 billion in shares and gives over £3 billion in loans and underwriting to arms companies who create the state-of-the-art weapons that murder, wound and terrorise millions of Palestinian civilians.

This is what we protesters intended to raise awareness about. But despite this, it can’t be ignored that the tone of the coverage hints that antisemitism was at play. There is nothing remotely antisemitic about wanting murder to stop, famine to be averted, occupation to be ended. As a Jewish person, many of whose family members were murdered in the Holocaust, it is beyond reprehensible. And I can’t imagine how it must feel for someone with relatives in Gaza to be condemned as a racist for wanting their loved ones to live.

Movements opposing injustice have never been represented in the ruling elite of football, and always face opprobrium by the liberal media. But that doesn’t mean we will stop, or bend to delegitimisation. Football fans have always been engaged in the struggles against injustice, especially Arsenal fans. At Highbury, the Anti-Nazi League always maintained a presence against the National Front. When apartheid rule choked South Africa, Ronnie Kasrils — a Jewish Gooner and leading member of Nelson Mandela’s underground army — would meet with anti-apartheid agents there, the sound of the crowd drowning out their discussions from any keen ears of the apartheid security services.

In these instances, there is no doubt who was on the right side of history, nor is there now — it is the 70 percent of the public who support a ceasefire, and those who are trying in any way to force our politicians to use what power they have to stop the slaughter. No feeble attempts by journalists, the FA, or anybody else will hamper this sentiment or this movement. On every terrace across Britain, football fans will continue to speak out and organise until Israel stops its genocide and Palestine is free.