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Israeli football chief criticises Premier League over response to Hamas attacks

The chairman of the Israeli Professional Football Leagues has said he is “shocked, amazed and disappointed beyond words” at the Premier League’s reluctance to issue an unequivocal condemnation of the Hamas attacks on Israel.

The intervention follows British politicians and Jewish groups in the UK reacting angrily to the Football Association resisting calls to light the Wembley arch in the colours of the Israeli flag or the Jewish prayer shawl. Erez Halfon, who chairs the IPFL, wrote to Richard Masters, the Premier League’s chief executive, to say English football’s response to the attacks has been too ambiguous and has not shown enough solidarity with Israeli citizens who lost their lives.

FA criticised by Jewish groups over response to Hamas attacksRead more

Details of his letter emerged as it was revealed by the Jewish News that the chair of the FA’s Faith in Football group, Rabbi Alex Goldberg, had resigned in protest at the FA’s stance. Goldberg said in a letter to Mark Bullingham, the FA’s chief executive, that he was “profoundly disappointed in the FA’s decision not to have a specific tribute during the upcoming matches against Australia and Italy at Wembley Stadium, to the victims of the worst single atrocity committed against Jewish targets since the Shoah”. He told LBC he had not been consulted by the FA over its response.

The Premier League said on Thursday that a moment’s silence would be held at its games from 21-23 October and that players, managers and match officials would wear black armbands to mark “the escalating crisis in Israel and Gaza”.

The response has caused upset within the Jewish community and Halfon wrote: “Many countries have expressed their unequivocal support of the State of Israel. The greatest monuments in the world were lit up in blue and white or with the Israeli flag. In a joint statement by President Macron of France, Chancellor Scholz of Germany, Prime Minister Meloni of Italy, Prime Minister Sunak of the United Kingdom, and President Biden of the United States, they ‘expressed their steadfast and united support to the State of Israel, and their unequivocal condemnation of Hamas and its appalling acts of terrorism’.

“Richard – the words ‘unequivocal condemnation’, ‘appalling acts of terrorism’, ‘massacre’, ‘slaughter’, and ‘bloodshed’ have all been written in those statements. Please think about the level at which something needs to be undeniably true for a diplomatic statement of this magnitude to be issued.

“Considering this undeniable truth, we are amazed, shocked and disappointed beyond words at The Premier League’s lack of ability to condemn these acts. This is not about a conflict between two people. This is about leadership and the world where we want to live and raise our children. Premier League must prevent radical Islamist ideology from expanding and contaminating our free, creative, diverse community and world with such despicable crimes.

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“Clubs, Fans, Coaches and players worldwide expect you, as a leader, to condemn these crimes publicly and unequivocally against humanity. Your initial message was ambiguous, and we cannot allow any misinterpretation. We would greatly appreciate the chance to discuss this matter with you.”

The Premier League has been contacted for comment. On Thursday a statement from the league said: “The Premier League is shocked and saddened by the escalating crisis in Israel and Gaza, and strongly condemns the horrific and brutal acts of violence against innocent civilians. We hope for peace, and our heartfelt sympathies are with the victims, their families and the communities impacted.”

On Friday Chelsea became the first Premier League club to send a separate message, writing on X, formerly Twitter: “Chelsea FC is enormously saddened by the huge loss of life following last weekend’s attacks on Israel. We stand with the Jewish community in London and around the world in the face of the rising tide of antisemitism, which we have long campaigned against. We will join with our fellow Premier League clubs in remembering all the innocent lives lost in Israel and Gaza in recent days at Stamford Bridge when we play Arsenal.”

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The FA will hold a period of silence for all victims of the conflict before England host Australia on Friday night. The president of Israel’s FA, Moshe Zuares, was strongly critical of the FA for not lighting the arch. “Those who are afraid to light up a stadium in memory of the murdered and for the sake of historical truth, for reasons that cannot be understood at all and perhaps it is better not to even try, are in an even darker time than the one my country is currently in,” he said. “When this happens by the FA of a nation that [has] always known how to be a moral lighthouse for the free world, it is [more] disappointing than ever. I tried to explain this to my colleagues in the English FA several times in the past days but they insist not to understand. Now they are the one who need to explain.”

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The Palestine Solidarity Campaign said it welcomed the FA’s decision “and its resistance to pressure from the government and other political leaders”. A spokesperson said: “Emblazoning public buildings with the flag of Israel cannot be taken as a neutral act of sympathy for civilian victims of violence because that should be extended to all civilians who have been killed in the last few days, including those who are under mammoth bombardment at this moment in Gaza.”

An FA spokesperson said in response to Goldberg’s resignation: “We are sorry to hear of Rabbi Alex’s decision to resign from his role in our Faith in Football group. Although this is an informal group that is not part of The FA’s governance structure, we are grateful for the support he has provided over the years. It is also important to clarify that our decision not to allow Israeli or Palestine flags into Wembley Stadium was made at the direct request of senior members of the Jewish community.”

It also emerged on Friday that Deji Davies, the chair of the FA’s inclusion advisory board, sent a tweet in 2013 calling for a boycott of the Under-21 European Championship in Israel. Davies, a director at Brentford, also called for a free Palestine in the post and this week backed the FA over its response to the attacks in Israel.

The tweet was deleted after the Guardian contacted the FA for comment. Davies said: “Clearly this is such a difficult time for many people. I have removed the tweet from 10 years ago as I do not want to cause offence to anyone at what is an awful time. I am fully supportive of the FA’s position of peace and unity and an end to the violence, death and suffering of Israelis and Palestinians.”

Fifa’s president, Gianni Infantino, has written to the Israel and Palestine FAs, offering condolences over the “horrendous violence”. “The footballing world stands firmly in solidarity with the people of Israel and Palestine, and with all the innocent victims that have paid an unspeakable price,” he wrote.

A concern for antisemitism campaigners in the UK is whether Jewish footballers, teams and spectators in amateur leagues could be targeted with abuse during matches this weekend. Jewish-only leagues are widespread, though some Jewish footballers will turn out in general divisions.

The Guardian contacted the FA to ask whether plans have been made to protect the wellbeing of its Jewish community. It is understood the governing body will work with county FAs and relevant authorities if it receives reports of antisemitic abuse.