SANTIAGO, Chile - More than 16,000 kilometers from the Middle East, Jews and Arabs are at odds in Chile over a professional soccer club's support for the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel.
Acting on a complaint by Chile's Jewish community, soccer authorities summoned the chairman of First Division club Palestino for talks on Tuesday after he refused to stop holding a minute's silence for Palestinian "martyrs" before games.
The club, founded by Arab immigrants, is also in trouble for flying a Palestinian flag at half-staff at its ground in Santiago in apparent defiance of a national ban on displaying political symbols at stadiums.
Some 300,000 of Chile's 15 million population claim Palestinian family ties.
Community leaders say the Middle East violence has heightened their sense of identity as Palestinians. "We have family members - aunts, cousins, friends - who are being killed. That is our people, our family there," Nicolas Abuawad, chairman of Palestino, told Reuters.
Unlike the mostly Muslim Palestinian diaspora in the Middle East, many of Chile's Palestinians are Christians whose ancestors fled conscription into the Ottoman army in the early 19th century.
They maintain close ties to Christian Palestinians in and around Bethlehem, where Palestinians fought Israeli tanks and armored vehicles on Tuesday.
Abuawad was defiant ahead of Tuesday's meeting with the National Association of Professional Football although the club could be sent to a disciplinary hearing and later fined.
"I have every right to hold these protests in my stadium," he said. "They shouldn't be so critical because in the most recent minutes of silence we have also been remembering the Israeli dead," Abuawad said.
Palestino, which plays in the Palestinian national colors of red, white, green and black, won the national championship once in 1978 and is regarded as a middle-of-the-table team.
Jewish leaders complained to the football association after a Palestino home game last month with league champions Santiago Wanderers. "There were banners carrying political propaganda such as `Palestine Resists' and a minute's silence for martyrs of the intifada," said Marcos Levy, deputy head of the Committee of Jewish Representatives, which complained to the football association.
Both sides say relations between Chile's Palestinians and the small Jewish community of 18,000 had become worse in recent months as the Middle East violence escalates.
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