An Israeli-sponsored exhibition in Cardiff, Wales showing photographs of Jews and Arabs playing soccer together was taken down on Friday, the Guardian reported, sparking accusations of censorship and capitulation to anti-Israel pressure but winning applause from at least one pro-Palestinian group.
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The exhibition, entitled "Low Football – Jewish-Arab football: diversity and co-existence through lower-league football," opened at Cardiff central library ahead of a European Championship qualifier between Israel and Wales on Sunday, which is expected to be picketed by pro-Palestinian groups.
However, following a complaint by an unknown source, the photographs have been removed.
“Following a complaint, it was decided to review the material and the exhibit was withdrawn. The council is aware there are protests planned around the Wales-Israel game at the weekend and this was taken into consideration," a Cardiff city council spokesperson said.
“Our libraries are buildings that promote free speech but it was felt that running this exhibition could lead visitors to suppose that the council was displaying bias. This is of course not the case.”
The decision to withdraw the exhibition has drawn fire from politicians, Jewish community leaders and the Israeli embassy, which sponsored the exhibition.
“Tolerance towards intolerance is cowardice, and this is the unfortunate sight we witnessed in Cardiff, in the face of vile threats by a small group of thugs,” the embassy's charge d'affaires, Eitan Na'eh, said.
“It’s these pictures of coexistence that intolerant thugs wish to erase, so that no one might realize that there is one country in the Middle East where such coexistence exists. Britain has long been the home of a people who have shown the world the meaning of determination and bravery: in Wales this week we witnessed a surrender to the forces of extremism,” Na'eh said.
The Cardiff council's opposition leader called the decision to take down the exhibition "shameful," warning that it may point to an anti-Israel bias within the Labour-dominated council.
“We live in a democracy and have freedom of speech. Cardiff council has totally disregarded this. People can protest to show their views. That is democracy. To censor something is harking back to bad days,” Liberal Democrat Judith Woodman said.
The Cardiff Stop the War Coalition, one of the groups behind the protests against the football match on Sunday, welcomed the decision to take down the exhibition which "whitewashes the reality of football in the Middle East."
"Israel wages war on Palestinian football. How can a country be allowed to compete in international matches when it prevents another Fifa member playing football freely?” the group's secretary, Adam Johannes, said.
The Low Football exhibition, which was created by Israelis Gad Salner and Vadim Tarasov, has been displayed across Europe, in the U.S. and in southeast Asia, the Guardian said, adding that it was also shown at the Guardian's offices in London.
According to Salner, Cardiff was the first place where the exhibition sparked a controversy.
“It’s sad that it has come to this. It’s a cliche, but politics and football should not be mixed,” he told the Guardian.