Anyone who knows the politics of English soccer appreciates that the Arsenal Football Club has always been the sentimental favorite of Anglo-Jewish sports fans and, more recently, of London's burgeoning Israeli expatriate community. Israeli and Jewish businesses have for some time counted Arsenal’s fans as their customers, and the bond was further strengthened when the club recently announced an official link to promote tourism to Israel in the stadium.
In a deal worth $600,000, Israel will be promoted on electronic billboards, on banner advertisements on its website and in the club publication. Israeli Tourism Ministry forecasts that the Arsenal campaign will bring an extra two million visitors of all faiths to the Jewish State. The Jewish State will be hailed as Arsenal’s “official and exclusive travel destination.”
But not everyone is pleased with the deal. This week it was reported that the international airline of the United Arab Emirates, Emirates Airlines, pays for naming rights to the stadium. According to the Jerusalem Post, the entire takeover of the club naming rights cost Emirates a cool $100 million in 2004. Arsenal’s Web site puts the price of the Emirates Airlines naming rights at closer to $200 million. Arsenal’s new stadium, an expensive undertaking located just a short distance from the infamous Finsbury Park Mosque, the onetime home of hook-handed Sheikh Abu Hamza, is due to open in August.
Responding to these objections, the Israeli Tourism Minister, Eli Cohen, has invited the airline's upper management to visit the country. According to the Post, Cohen made the offer after the Dubai-based Khaleej Times reported an Emirates Airlines official’s displeasure with the Arsenal deal. But to no avail. The United Arab Emirates, which prohibits entry to Israeli citizens, has no diplomatic ties with Israel, and Emirate Airlines seems intent on carrying on the policy of official discrimination. As an airline spokesman told the Post, "The Arsenal-Israel tie-up is unfortunate and we are obviously not happy. We will do our best to persuade Arsenal not to renew its deal with Israel.”
Outrage over Arsenal’s dealings with Israel has also come from the strident and influential UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which has launched a letter-writing campaign appealing to its supporters and a wide swath of anti-Israel British groups to target Arsenal Football Club. Here is an excerpt of the appeal:
‘Subject: Action Alert: Arsenal Football Club--URGENT
‘THIS IS AN ISSUE WITH GLOBAL REACH---PLEASE TAKE ACTION WHEREVER YOU ARE AND SPREAD THE ALERT WIDELY
‘Arsenal Football Club supporting Israeli Apartheid
Below are just some of the benefits Israel will receive from this deal:
Israel will be featured on digital perimeter boards and 450 high-definition LCD screens at the stadium on game days;
- Israel will feature on the team's website, Arsenal.com;
- The televised ads will reach audiences in an estimated 198 countries.
- The Israeli Tourism Ministry will receive intellectual property rights, the use of the team logo and the right to use photos of the team and its players in ads.
The Israeli Tourism Minister will be allowed use of the stadium banqueting hall twice a year and organize an exhibition at the end of the playing season;
The stadium will hold permanent sale tables for Israel t-shirts
‘The financial advisers Ernst & Young were employed to draft this proposal
with the aim of bringing an extra 2 million tourists to Israel annually.
‘Arsenal FC and individual players have been in the forefront of the 'Kick Racism Out of Football Campaign'. For Arsenal to sign a deal to promote Israel which denies Palestinians human rights and is illegally occupying Palestinian territory is to go against the very principles of anti-racism.
‘This campaign is supported by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, \Palestinian Return Centre, Innovative Minds, the British Muslim Initiative, the Muslim Association of Britain, the Palestinian Forum in Britain, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Scottish-Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.’
‘All campaigners are urged to:
‘Contact Arsenal Football Club reminding them that Israel is a racist apartheid state which is consistently in breach of international law in its human rights abuses; and that such a deal endangers Arsenal's anti-racist reputation.’
It is important to note that the Muslim and Anglo-Palestinian groups listed are not fringe elements but mainstream, well-funded British pressure groups.
At a time when the United States is embroiled in a passionate national debate about the imminent takeover of its main eastern ports by the United Arab Emirates, this week’s anti-Israel campaign orchestrated by Emirates Airlines and its allies is a harbinger of some grim possibilities.
After all, if a UAE-run company can take such a hostile view of a business deal that stands to favor Jews (in this case the large Jewish/Israeli audience at Arsenal games) and Israel, one can’t help but wonder how DP World, the Dubai company taking over a British firm that oversees the U.S. ports, will chose to conduct its business. Will it fire Jewish and Israeli Port Authority employees? Inasmuch as it supports the boycott of Israeli goods, will it insist that American Customs inspectors open containers and sequester books, goods and other items arriving that were made in Israel? These are questions that American politicians, no less than British soccer club owners, should pause to consider.
Carol Gould is a Drama and documentary producer based in London, and the author of Spitfire Girls.
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