Friday, 25 May 2018

Déjà vu again

Déjà vu again

Back in 2014, during the dreadful Israeli bombardment of Gaza an incident occurred which was chilling even by the standard of the carnage occurring then. Four children were playing football on a beach when an Israeli ship fired explosive shells at them. All four were killed and there was understandable outrage. Channel Four News absolutely nailed the Israeli spokesman on the night of the atrocity by asking him…

‘The operation you’re engaged in is called ‘protective edge’ and its stated purpose is to protect Israeli civilians, how does killing children on a beach contribute to that purpose?’

According to the UN, 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the 50-day conflict in 2014, of whom, 1,492 were civilians, 605 militants and 123 unverified. At the time it led to understandable anger in many countries and few individuals allowed their resentment of what the IDF was doing in Gaza and the occupied territories spill over into unjustifiable physical or verbal attacks on individual Jewish people. The policy of a state is not decided by individuals and attacking those with no responsibility for actions you disagree with is pointless and absurd.

The year after the Gaza bombardment, Celtic Director Ian Livingston come in for considerable flak for voting in favour of Conservative Party cuts to tax credits. Many argued against these policies with eloquence, intelligence and genuine feeling while once more a handful of less cerebral individuals resorted to abuse of a personal nature and demanded he leave his post at Celtic. I tried to put a balanced view of that debate on the record and for the most part I felt people accepted that Celtic Football Club should be open to all who hold reasonably sane political views even if we don’t agree with them. It would be dangerous indeed to exclude a group from the Celtic family because we disagree with the views they hold and I for one feel our club would be much poorer if we ventured down that particular barren road. We can see the historical damage exclusivist attitudes and policies did to another Glasgow club, a club which is still dealing with the toxic fallout from their petty apartheid.

So this week we found the media making fuss about a few online trolls giving Nir Bitton abuse. As is often the way, the trashier tabloids dredged a few comments from idiots online and built a story around them.  The trolling of Bitton came in the wake of the appalling toll of deaths and injuries during the ‘Return March’ held in Gaza to mark 70 years since the foundation of Israel and the expulsion of  tens of thousands of Palestinians from their homes. A few resorted to abusing the one Israeli close at hand as if he somehow had an influence on events in the middle-east. Bitton for his part hit back when the abuse started affecting his girlfriend and said…

“I’m just tired of replying to idiots who insult me because I’m Israeli so I’m not going to reply anymore! It’s just a shame for the people who insult me over such a thing like that.  As a father if you guys think I support the death of children or any human being then you are nothing but idiots! I’m all up for the banter but not when you guys texting my wife’s Instagram. I’m getting abuse for a while so I just felt that I had to say that. Don’t mix football and politics, you are better than that. Love you all.”

Bitton may be somewhat naïve to think that politics and football will ever be totally separated, especially at a club like Celtic. I applauded the Green Brigade’s ‘match the fine for Palestine’ campaign which saw over £176,000 gathered for charitable work in a land sorely in need of some hope. Such an action was in keeping with the best humanitarian values all Celts hold dear. What I can never accept though is a minority who try to foist their idea of what Celtic should be on us all and advising us who is worthy to wear the Hoops and who is not.

Bitton tweets his support for the IDF in times of conflict but is that so unusual? This is a young man brought up in Israel, influenced by its media and the narrative it portrays of what occurs in the occupied territories.  He has done his compulsory national service himself and will no doubt also have friends and relatives who are serving in the military at the moment but he isn’t personally responsible for the policies of the Israeli government. The solution to the running sore that is the middle-east will not be found abusing a footballer 2500 miles away but by a concerted effort by governments around the world. John F Kennedy once said…

‘Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression and persecution of others.’

I have huge sympathy for the dreadful treatment of the Palestinians and the huge injustices done to them historically and currently, while a hypocritical world looks the other way. We can though choose to respond to an issue in either positive or negative ways. Celtic supporters and any other fan group are perfectly entitled to show solidarity by flying their flag or fund raising for their medical charities should they so choose. This is a very human and positive response to a beleaguered people caught in an appalling situation.  No one though is entitled to abuse a Celtic player because he is Israeli. That’s just absurd and says more about the abusers than Nir Bitton.

In the final analysis we have to ask ourselves what sort of club we want. Do we want one which is open to all who espouse reasonable and genuinely held views or do we wish to go down the route of excluding those we disagree with? Or worse still, do we want to be influenced by zealots with a narrow political agenda which clouds their every judgement? There can never be total separation of sport and politics but there are sensible limits.

The good ship Celtic has done amazing things in the past 130 years and has relied on players, supporters and officials from all walks of life to do this. From John Thomson to Henrik Larsson, from Bertie Peacock to Jock Stein, from Tommy Gemmell to Victor Wanyama; our players have come from every continent, every faith group, every ethnicity and have all played their heart out for Celtic. Some are born into Celtic while others grow to love Celtic and will keep the club in their hearts forever. All though should be treated with the respect we ourselves would expect. That’s the right way. That’s the Celtic way.

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