On Thursday March 12, Maccabi Tel Aviv played against FC Barcelona at a Euroleague Basketball match. After four days of tension between Barcelona supporters and FC Barcelona authorities due to the prohibition by the Catalan club on exhibiting any sign of Palestine solidarity, Maccabi Tel Aviv was received by waving Palestinian flags at the Palau Blaugrana (FC Barcelona Stadium). FC Barcelona supporters also carried signs reading “Boycott Israel,” “Boycott Maccabi” and “Free Palestine” while chanting “Palestine.”
In recent years, it has been common to see and hear slogans in favor of freedom of the Palestinian people whenever the Israeli team went to Barcelona. The solidarity of supporters’ clubs with the Palestinian cause has led to a lawsuit being filed against the Euroleague (the Barcelona-based organizer of the competition) demanding Maccabi Tel Aviv be excluded from the European competition.
It has also been common in recent years to see how the security around the FC Barcelona Stadium has been excessively stepped up whenever the Maccabi Tel Aviv team has played there. One of the Barcelona supporters’ clubs, Sang Culé, Cor Català, described in a statement some of the many ways the Israeli team and Mossad, the Israeli secret services, show their power, including searches, the use of dogs and confiscating Palestinian flags.
This year, however, the Catalan police have gone even further: as reported by two of the club’s supporters’ groups (Dracs 1991 and Sang Culé, Cor Català), they announced specific bans, under threat of arrest, on carrying Palestinian flags, displaying signs or banners in Arabic, singing about or mentioning Palestine, or chanting slogans against Maccabi or the State of Israel. Catalan society was quick to show its rejection of these bans and on Thursday morning, the FC Barcelona security manager told the supporters it was going to change the guidelines for this game, allowing Palestinian flags into the stadium and the shouting of pro-Palestinian chants. However, the ban on signs or banners in Arabic was not lifted.
The Stop Complicity with Israel Coalition (CPCI) denounced the repression this announcement represented, as well as the serious attack on freedom of expression it entails: “we believe banning signs in Arabic is a serious act of racism, since it criminalizes and stigmatizes a specific culture. In fact, such a ban is illegal under the current Spanish law against violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sport.”
Furthermore, the opposition to the match between FC Barcelona and Maccabi Tel Aviv by a broad spectrum of Catalan civil society is due to the fact that “it is used to foster a favorable image of Israel, thus legitimizing the occupation, colonization and apartheid in Palestine. Israel is not an example to be followed, not a normal country, as some people try to make out. A boycott of Israel on all fronts (economic, academic, cultural, institutional and sports), just like that employed by the nonviolent struggle against South African apartheid, is a way of forcing an end to the apartheid suffered by the Palestinian people since 1948.”
The BDS Catalunya group and the CPCI regard Maccabi Tel Aviv as an “ambassador” of Israel and deserving of the same treatment given to the Springboks national rugby team when it was subjected to a boycott due to its collaboration with, and role as representative of, the South African apartheid state. The Springboks were unable to play away from home and very few teams visited South Africa. In 1960, South Africa was expelled from the Commonwealth and in 1972 it was excluded from the Olympic games in Munich. The sports boycott endorsed by the United Nations Assembly, the economic and academic boycotts, the tourism and arms sanctions imposed by the UN, and international pressure on the Pretoria government played a decisive part in bringing about the end of Apartheid in South Africa.
For these reasons, 29 organizations (including non-profit and grassroots organizations, unions and fan clubs), as well as most of the left political parties from Catalonia (7 out of 8), which represent a large part of Catalan civil society, released a joint statement demanding that “F.C. Barcelona put a stop to these racist attacks on freedom of expression in its stadium.” In addition, the signing organizations demanded that the Catalan Ministry of the Interior “be transparent in its dealings with the Israeli intelligence agency (Mossad).”
According to the statement, “the secret agreements subordinate our independent organs of government to the orders to foreign power (…). These actions have sacrificed Catalan rights in the period before and after the match, bringing them down to the level of the Israeli state.” Finally, the signing organizations demanded that the Euroleague expel Maccabi from its competition, thereby “avoiding its becoming a showcase for the colonial and racist policies of the State of Israel.”
To read the full statement from BDS Catalunya, click here.