Middle East conflict in football: Israel solidarity divides foreign fans of Bundesliga clubs

BVB invited 14 survivors of the Hamas terror. This child was allowed onto the pitch as 80,000 fans provided some distraction.

Photo: Borussia Dortmund

Tens of thousands of fans sing, wave flags and clap to the beat. At the beginning of November, Borussia Dortmund welcomes FC Bayern in the Bundesliga. Before the game, a boy with a black and yellow scarf stands on the lawn and looks in amazement at the huge south stand. It’s a dream come true for the boy, even though he’s in the middle of a nightmare. On October 7, his father, grandmother and brother were murdered by Hamas in Israel.

The boy is one of a group of 14 Israeli survivors who are able to spend a few days at their favorite club in Dortmund. “It was an escapist experience, especially for the children,” says Adam Lahav, a key figurehead of the “Israeli Borussia”. This fan club organized the trip to Germany. »The children laughed and played together. Football finally gave them other ideas.”

In probably no other country does football emphasize its solidarity with Israel as strongly as in Germany. Associations hold minutes of silence for the victims. Fan groups display banners against growing anti-Semitism. Clubs spread reports of the hostages being wanted. But this solidarity also causes anger and disappointment in international fan communities, especially among supporters in Arab countries.

Adam Lahav, who grew up in Israel, has been a Dortmund fan since childhood. In 2007 he founded the “Israeli Borussians” with friends. In 2010 he traveled to Dortmund for the first time. His identification goes beyond sports, because BVB has been setting up memorial work projects for years: employees of the club, including managing director Hans-Joachim Watzke, visited Israel several times. In 2019, Borussia donated one million euros to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

Even after October 7th, BVB quickly declared its solidarity with Israel. The club supports the “Israeli Borussia” plan to invite survivors of terror to Dortmund. Lahav and his colleagues are collecting donations for travel and accommodation. Not an easy task, because the fan club has no more than 75 active members, more than 80 percent of them live in Israel, the others in Germany, like Lahav. “We have always advocated coexistence,” is how he answers one of the fundamental political questions. “We have four Muslim members in the fan club, two of whom sit on the board.”

Lahav finds this context important because ten days after the terror, seven BVB fan clubs from Arab countries published a completely different statement. In it – without mentioning the Hamas attack – they accuse the club of a one-sided positioning: “We express our concern that many of us would no longer feel connected to the club if such cases of double standards occur again.”

Since then, controversial and emotional discussions have taken place on social media surrounding BVB. Is it still safe for the “Israeli Borussia” in the stadium? “It’s not that we feel uncomfortable in the block,” says Lahav. After a minute’s silence, people from the area spontaneously hugged him. »Many personal contacts were made as a result.«

Fans around other clubs have also reacted with commitment since the beginning of the war. Supporters of 1. FC Cologne are selling special scarves against anti-Semitism and donating the proceeds to an Israeli pastoral care organization. FC St. Pauli fans organize a vigil against hatred of Jews. And a number of fan groups, for example in Munich, Freiburg, Bremen and Mainz, remember the kidnapped hostages with banners and choreographies: “Bring Them Home”.

Such actions increase attention for the Bundesliga in Israel. In contrast, the otherwise highly valued English Premier League is losing trust. “Israeli fans of Chelsea FC announced that they should do without the Star of David on their stadium flag in the future,” reports Israeli journalist Felix Tamsut, who lives in Germany. Officials at Liverpool FC also banned a banner depicting four football fans who were murdered by Hamas at the music festival.

Do English clubs want to use this to secure their business in Arab markets? The fan clubs of Liverpool and Manchester United, but also of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, ​​have several thousand members in Israel, meaning they are significantly larger than those of the German clubs Borussia Dortmund, FC Bayern and FC Augsburg. Some of them signed an open letter. In it they are “deeply concerned about the loud silence of European football clubs and associations.” In the Bundesliga, this silence may not be quite as loud, says Adam Lahav. And yet Jewish people like him in Germany feel pretty lonely right now.

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