Israeli and Welsh football fans joined forces on Sunday to counteract an anti-Israel demonstration which was held prior to the Israel vs Wales 2016 European qualifier in Cardiff.
More than 150 supporters sung, chanted and played Israeli music on loudspeakers as nearly 1,000 Pro-Palestinian supporters reached Jubilee Park, a stretch of land which lies adjacent to Cardiff City stadium, the venue of the match, having marched there from the City Hall.
Arieh Miller, Executive Director of the Zionist Federation, which organised the pro-Israel rally, said: “We’re delighted to say we were able to bring over 100 people over from London to Cardiff to support Israel against Wales. As well as enjoying a fantastic day of football, we countered the false narrative of the BDS who preposterously accuse Israel of being a “racist” state. Our solidarity rally showed the true face of Israel, with placards and banners celebrating the most diverse team and country in the Middle East. Our volunteers also handed out 5000 fan magazines to Welsh supporters, filled with quirky facts that show Israel in a more positive, realistic light.
“The Israeli team itself is a fantastic representation of everything that’s great about Israel, not only Jews, Israeli Christians, Israeli Muslims, all playing together in one team. The irony of the people who are trying to get them banned from playing is that they’re looking to shut down this co-existence and collaboration.
“Today’s about Wales and Israel playing football against each other, it’s not about bringing politics into sport. The Olympic Games, every four years, has the Olympics Truce, where the UN declares a worldwide truce – that shows how the world should work with sport and in particular football – the beautiful game. Politics shouldn’t mix, it doesn’t need to come into it, yet unfortunately a few people do tend to bring politics into it which is a real shame.”
The estimated 600 Israel-supporting fans who were in Wales for the match, were also unable to view a photographic exhibition at Cardiff’s Central Library, depicting Jewish-Arab diversity and coexistence through football, after it was closed down less than 24 hours after it had opened. Miller said: “That is the other shame of today, that an exhibition which was a fantastic message of Jews and Arabs playing football together in the lower leagues of Israeli football was shut down, which means we’re unable to see it because of a tiny amount of bigoted, negative voices.” The exhibition was though on show in an area in the stadium.
Among those in support of Israel was Anthony Dennison, co-chair of North West Friends of Israel. He said: “I think it’s important to be here because today’s about football, international football, Israel playing Wales, and yet we have people turning up demonstrating, trying to make it a political issue, it’s not a political issue, it’s sport.”
South Wales Police confirmed no arrests were made, describing the one-hour protest as a “peaceful one.”