Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Al-Sarsak waves to supporters as he is finally freed after three years in an Israeli jail without trial. Photo: Reuters
Ask your average football fan what they think about the Palestinian national side and you are likely to get an incredulous: ‘Palestine has a team?’ Ask about next year’s European under-21 finals being held in Israel and ‘That’s not in Europe!’ is the likely reaction. But European football’s governing body, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), has indeed selected Israel to host the men’s under-21 finals next June and the women’s under-19 finals in 2015.
Over the coming months Red Card Israeli Racism aims to publicise this and challenge Israeli racism through football.
Following a series of recent incidents, football’s governing bodies have again been proclaiming how seriously they take racism. Despite this a major competition is being staged in Israel – where campaigners argue that racism is institutionalised.
This was highlighted in June when football legend Eric Cantona endorsed a letter calling for the release of Mahmoud al‑Sarsak, a talented member of the Palestinian national squad who was on hunger strike in an Israeli jail. He had been arrested in July 2009 when he tried to travel from his home in Gaza to join a new club in the occupied West Bank.
An international outcry secured his release on 10 July. By then he had refused food for more than 90 days in protest at three years’ incarceration without charge or trial. Two other footballers are reported to be among at least 300 Palestinian victims of Israel’s ‘administrative detention’ regime.
Sarsak’s hunger strike came to a head during UEFA’s Euro 2012 competition in May, hosted jointly by Poland and Ukraine. Cantona was one of many notables questioning the double standard that saw Poland and Ukraine threatened with sanctions over racism while Israel’s treatment of Palestinians went unremarked.
After Sarsak was freed, Theo van Seggelen, secretary general of the International Federation of Professional Footballers’ Associations, said FIFPro expected any player, ‘be it Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Mahmoud al-Sarsak’, to be allowed to play for their country.
This concern is welcome, but it is not enough, campaigners say. Sarsak may have been freed but the overall situation remains unchanged. Street violence targeting Palestinians and immigrants in Israel occurs against a background of high-level racist rhetoric. In May, Israel’s interior minister Eli Yishai denounced black immigrants as ‘infiltrators’ and said migrants ‘think the land doesn’t belong to us, to the white man’. Days later, ten Eritrean homes were firebombed in Jerusalem.
In the West Bank, Israel’s 45-year-old military occupation oversees an apartheid-style system of permits and checkpoints that severely limits Palestinians’ ability to train and compete in any sport. In Gaza the situation is even worse. Three players were among the 1,400 Palestinians killed during Israel’s assault in 2008-9, during which the Rafah national stadium was levelled.
The president of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, told UEFA president Michel Platini during Sarsak’s hunger strike that: ‘For athletes in Palestine, there is no real freedom of movement and the risks of being detained or even killed are always looming before their eyes.’ He pleaded with Platini ‘not to give Israel the honour to host the next UEFA under-21 championship’.
Rajoub’s request reiterated a plea sent to Platini a year earlier by 42 Palestinian football clubs based in Gaza. Platini ignored both. Instead he claims that Israel will host ‘a beautiful celebration of football that, once again, will bring people together’. This is despite the fact that Israel’s draconian controls will make it impossible for tens of thousands of Palestinian fans from the West Bank and Gaza to get to the matches.
Campaigners across Europe who took up Sarsak’s case are now in discussion with leading football anti-racists to make sure Israel’s racism remains high on the agenda. There will be leafleting and demonstrations at football grounds in several European countries. From October, they will focus on the seven European nations that qualify for the championship, aiming to persuade them to visit Palestine and see for themselves what life as a Palestinian footballer is like.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going