Anyone seeking to combat growing anti-Israel intimidation worldwide ought to pay attention to an obscure soccer match last week.
Such intimidation has become common at sporting events, just as it has at college campuses, public lectures and many other venues. In Malmo, Sweden, this past March, for instance, organizers barred spectators entirely from Israel’s Davis Cup tennis match against Sweden, owing to fear of pro-Palestinian protesters who, the town’s mayor said, had recently pelted a pro-Israel demonstration with bottles, eggs, and fireworks. Two months earlier, an Israeli basketball team fled the court in panic during a EuroCup match in Ankara, Turkey, after thousands of Turkish fans waving Palestinian flags shouted “death to the Jews,” threw shoes and water battles, and ultimately stormed the court. (Adding insult to injury, EuroCup’s governing body then slapped Israel with a technical loss because the frightened players refused to take the court again.)
So when Hapoel Tel Aviv played Celtic in Glasgow last week, the Scottish Trade Unions Congress — one of many European unions that have voted to boycott Israel — saw a golden opportunity: it urged Celtic fans to wave Palestinian flags during the match in “solidarity with suffering Palestinians.” But in the end, the protest fizzled: only “a handful” of pro-Palestinian protesters occupied the stands, Reuters reported.
This defeat required no major investment of time, money, or energy. All it took was one simple news statement by Celtic’s management — asserting that its stadium was “no place for a political demonstration” and urging fans to ignore STUC’s call.
This tactic worked not because Glasgow is a hotbed of pro-Israel sentiment; it’s anything but. Rather, it worked because Celtic fans, like the vast majority of the human race, don’t consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a high priority. And on issues people don’t care much about, they usually follow the path of least resistance.
If a prominent organization like STUC urges a pro-Palestinian protest, and nobody opposes it, the path of least resistance for anyone mildly pro-Palestinian — i.e., most Scots — would be to take a flag (assuming organizers are smart enough to hand them out) and even wave it: acquiescence is always easier than opposition. But the minute someone with any kind of standing, like Celtic’s management, opposes it, doing nothing becomes the preferred option — because then, taking a flag means actively taking sides. And taking sides is much harder than doing nothing.
Given how easy it turns out to be to thwart such anti-Israel intimidation, it is disturbing that so many people in authority — from mayors to college deans to heads of sporting organizations — nevertheless prefer to collaborate with the thugs by remaining silent. Yet at the same time, this demonstration ought to hearten pro-Israel activists. For if Celtic’s success once again proves that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, it also shows that sometimes, all it takes to defeat evil is for a few good men to just say no.