French police’s flag ban for soccer fans stokes outrage in Israel

French police’s flag ban for soccer fans stokes outrage in Israel

Ministers slam Strasbourg authorities over restrictions on supporters of Maccabi Haifa; later clarification finds ban applies also to rival team, and only outside stadium

Illustrative: Fans of the Maccabi Haifa soccer team cheer during a game at the Teddy stadium in Jerusalem, May 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Fans of the Maccabi Haifa soccer team cheer during a game at the Teddy stadium in Jerusalem, May 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A French police directive banning flag-waving by fans attending a match between Israel’s Maccabi Haifa soccer team and hosts Strasbourg on Thursday prompted protests from Israeli ministers.

The Foreign Ministry later clarified that the restrictions were placed on supporters of both teams and applied only to the city’s streets — not inside the stadium.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev blasted as “absurd” the decision by French police, which was initially reported in Israeli media as a ban on fans of Maccabi Haifa from flying the Israeli flag during the Europa League qualifying match.

“I expect French authorities to ensure the safety of the Israeli fans and players and let the fans cheer their team like in all sports venues and competitions,” Regev said in a statement. “It is 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.”

Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev, center, takes part in an exhibition game with the Israeli Women’s Soccer team at the Malcha Stadium in Jerusalem, June 30, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

According to the initial reports, local authorities also prohibited only the Israelis from wearing their team’s jerseys or displaying other items bearing Maccabi Haifa symbols on the city’s streets.

Israeli Ambassador to France Aliza Ben Noun tweeted, “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.”

Foreign Minister Israel Katz wrote on Twitter that he ordered the embassy in France to take immediate action to have the restrictions removed.

The Foreign Ministry later clarified that the restrictions were ordered for fans from both sides and that flag-waving would be permitted during the game.

“The Israeli ambassador to Paris protested to the authorities that the flag should symbolize freedom and the fraternity between the two teams — the two values of the French Republic that they are now denying from fans of the Maccabi Haifa team,” the ministry said in a statement.

“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 ministry said.

Foreign minister Israel Katz arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on June 24, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Maccabi Haifa put out a statement to fans explaining that despite protests to French authorities and the Union of European Football Associations, the prohibitions remained in place.

“There is a general prohibition on fans of the competing teams from walking around the city streets with team symbols — these are permitted only inside the stadium,” the club said. “According to police directives, fans who violate the instructions will be taken to the police station and be detained.”

Similar decisions have been made in the past by authorities in European countries, including France and Scotland.

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