LONDON August 10, 2010 – Manchester United and Chelsea football fans rarely agree on anything. In fact, it is pretty hard for them to do anything but disagree. But they did agree on one thing this past weekend at Wembley Stadium in England when their teams met in a pre-season match for something called the Community Shield Trophy.
Yossi Benayoun, from Beer-Sheva, Israel came on as a substitute for Chelsea in the second half and was received with a chorus of boos from the 85 thousand spectators, both those in blue and red. The reaction of the commentator to those boos and catcalls was just as interesting. Without mentioning apartheid Israel, in a subdued tone, the commentator noted how “the reaction was understandable”.
The signing of Benayoun by Chelsea was regarded as a public relations coup for Israeli hasbara and the hope was his presence on a premier European football club would normalize Israel’s place within the sporting world and beyond. The reality that came through on Sunday couldn’t have been further removed from that PR pipedream.
The fan reaction to Benayoun at Wembley was a direct reflection of the English public’s feelings about Israel. As public support for Israel dwindles throughout Europe, Benayoun is poised to become the scapegoat for Israel’s actions everytime he sets foot on the pitch for Chelsea this season. This situation is going to be a public relations nightmare for Israel all season long.
I have never met Yossi Benayoun, but I will say that he does not deserve to be the scapegoat for the crimes of a state that is committing open genocide on Palestinians and has recently murdered International aid workers. The problem is that despite the growing public opinion that decries Israel’s actions, the governments are slower to respond.
I’m sure that some British MPs were watching the footie match Sunday morning and even the slowest government representatives now understand how the English public feels about Israel after Benayoun was introduced.
Chelsea is in the UEFA Champions League again this year, which means that they will be playing all throughout Europe. With all the media control and government unresponsive to public opinion, Benayoun’s presence on the field with Chelsea will give the European public a chance to show the world how they feel about Israel.