STUC calls on Celtic fans to fly flag for Palestine at Israeli match

CELTIC fans are being asked to wave Palestinian flags during a football match against Israeli team Hapoel Tel Aviv in protest at the invasion of Gaza last year.

• The Rangers-Maccabi Haifa match was disrupted by a fan draped in a Palestinian flag. Picture: SNS

The controversial call by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) came in advance of the Europa League match next Wednesday, which will be seen by millions of football fans.

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The gesture is aimed to cause maximum embarrassment to the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor, who is travelling from London to attend the game.

Union bosses said the flag-waving move was designed to mark the anniversary of the invasion and the deaths of "1,400 men, women and children".

But such an action by fans could fall foul of Celtic's own code of conduct, which states supporters at the ground would be guilty of "disorderly conduct" if they stir up "hatred or ill-will towards individuals or groups of people" because of "national origin".

The move might also cause division within the club itself – the Celtic chairman and former home secretary John Reid was an early member of Labour Friends of Israel, and his wife, Carine Adler, is Jewish.

STUC deputy general secretary Dave Moxham said: "When the Israeli team Hapoel Tel Aviv visit Celtic Park on Wednesday night, millions around the world will be watching, including those living in Israel and Palestine.

"I am today writing to Celtic FC and Hapoel Tel Aviv FC outlining the reasons and purpose of this call and making clear that we attach no blame either to Hapoel Tel Aviv players, nor their fans, for the outrageous actions of their government.

"We hope that Celtic fans will join with us in a demonstration of support for a just and lasting peace in Israel/Palestine based on a safe and secure Palestinian homeland."

Former Lord Provost of Glasgow and Celtic fan Alex Mosson said he backed the STUC plans and vowed to wear a Palestinian flag around his shoulders next Wednesday night.

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He said: "The fans who take part will be highlighting the cruel injustice being perpetrated on the Palestinian people. They are victims and have been since the ethnic cleansing of Palestine which took place in 1948."

Last night, however, a leading member of the Jewish community in Scotland condemned the STUC's proposal as divisive and said it would not help the peace process.

Dr Ken Collins, a former president of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, said: "The important thing is that sport should be used to bring people together, not to pull them apart.

"There are people on both sides who make peace difficult and there are people of goodwill on both sides who are trying to bring communities together. Israeli football teams have Jews and Arabs in their sides. Any attempt to use sport to divide people is completely wrong."

Officials of Celtic FC also voiced concern over the planned protest.

A club spokesman said a crowded football match was "not the place for a public demonstration" and urged supporters not to compromise safety at Celtic Park.

Such behaviour could breach Uefa regulations and have consequences for Celtic, the spokesman warned.

He went on: "Celtic FC urges our supporters to come and back the team and for everyone attending Celtic Park on Wednesday evening to behave in a responsible manner that does not compromise or divert resources from public safety or bring the club into disrepute."

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In January, Rangers denied reports player Madjid Bougherra would wear a black armband in an on-pitch protest over Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

During a 2006 match between Rangers and Israeli side Maccabi Haifa, a member of a Scots-Palestinian campaign group raced across the Ibrox pitch draped in a Palestinian flag and wearing a T-shirt depicting the Pope. He also yelled sectarian remarks and was dragged away by police.

He was given 200 hours community service and a Europe-wide football banning order.

Rangers had to pay a 4,000 fine because of his behaviour.