Israel’s crisis spills into English Premier League

This week, the Arabic-language social media sites of two English Premier League football teams voiced support for Hamas in its latest confrontation with Israel. The two clubs are Wolverhampton Wanderers (Wolves) and West Ham United.

The Wolves’ tweet stated, in Arabic:

You don’t need to be Palestinian to speak, you just need to be human. Our hearts and prayers are behind Palestinians. God save the people of Jerusalem & Palestine.

West Ham’s said, also in Arabic:

Praying to God to grant them victory against the oppressors. Palestine will remain a land for Palestinians alone, like it or not. Victory from Allah is coming, sooner or later. The Hammers are behind you.

This tweet is more inflammatory than that of Wolves. It is also false. West Ham, “the Hammers,” took no position on the current dispute.

According to The Athletic, West Ham’s Arabic account is managed by a Saudi-based supporter who ran an unaffiliated fan account for many years before being paid by the club to turn it into an official account. The Wolves’ Arabic-language account is said to be run by a social media agency.

To their credit, both teams removed the anti-Israel tweets. Both should find new personnel to run their Arabic-language accounts.

(A Spanish top-division club, Cadiz, also tweeted support for Hamas. That tweet hasn’t been removed, according to The Athletic.)

Although the English Premier League doesn’t want to take sides in disputes like those in the Middle East, it has supported “Black Lives Matter” and the “Rainbow Laces” campaign in support of LGBT rights. EPL teams have chimed in with support via social media.

However, social media support for LGBT rights has often not appeared on Arabic-language sites for fear of alienating Muslim fans. This says something about EPL teams and about Muslims in the Middle East.

Naturally, some soccer players have strong feelings about the current conflagration in the Middle East. Arab and/or Muslim stars like Riyad Mahrez and Paul Pogba have voiced support for the Palestine/Hamas side. This, of course, is their right.

Meanwhile, Yossi Benayoun, an Israeli who once starred for West Ham, went on social media to remind folks that “500+ rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. #Israel under attack.” And I’m happy to report that Andy Carroll, who is some ways reminds me of the great Duncan Ferguson, “liked” his former West Ham teammate’s tweet.

The Athletic concludes its report on these developments with this sloppy statement:

Although some people may long to separate politics from football, social media is increasingly giving fans and players a voice to express their opinions on such issues, which might not always tally with the official club line.

As football clubs try to expand around the world and reach millions of people every day, it is getting harder to control things from an office in England.

Players and fans should be able to express their opinions on political issues, notwithstanding the desire of clubs to avoid getting involved. But clubs should be able to control the content on their social media pages.

To this end, clubs should end their relationship with anyone who hijacks a team organ to take sides in a political dispute the club wishes to steer clear of.

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