CARDIFF, Wales – Jubilee Garden is a very large football field adjacent to the Cardiff City Stadium. On Sunday, it hosted a very different kind of match. On the one side were some 700 anti-Israel protesters, while, about 200 meters from them, were several hundred pro-Israel demonstrators. Between the two were police barricades and an open space filled with policemen.
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"We were well prepared," said one of the marshals. "There's no chance anyone's going to get hurt today."
The separation between the two groups was so airtight that the sides couldn't even hear each other's shouts. Only the people holding the megaphones could be heard. "Kick Israel out of FIFA," followed by "Am Yisrael chai." Loudspeakers played Israeli music on the one side and African percussion on the other. That fight was won by the pro-Palestinians.
The real battle ended in a draw. The Welsh police had prepared for a much larger crowd – at least 3,000 anti-Israel protesters – and virtually all the soccer lovers glanced at the two camps before continuing on to the stadium, where the loudest slogans shouted were "Bale." Some of the fans seemed to favor the leftist British demonstrators, while others applauded the Israeli supporters wrapped in blue and white flags, with banners praising the prowess of the Israeli team.
But most seemed to be there to watch the game and to celebrate – on the assumption that their team won – Wales' first entry into a major tournament since 1958.
The main demand of the protesters was the expulsion of Israel from FIFA. They held posters supporting a free Palestine, a picture of Netanyahu with the slogan "Arrest Bibi the murderer" and "Israel is an apartheid state." Most seemed to be older members of the British left, rather than Muslim protesters.
Clair from London explained: "I'm a veteran of the protests against apartheid in South Africa and our goals are similar. Israel is an apartheid state; a terror state that killed 500 children in the last war, that blockades Gaza and occupies the West Bank. A warmonger that has attempted to undermine democratic Arab states, harasses Palestinian football and has no place in international sport."
Another demonstrator held a large signing proclaiming "The Liverpool Co-op against Apartheid." She said: "I'm against Israel but I have no connection with Liverpool. Israel isn't part of Europe and shouldn't be playing in Wales."
"But Asia kicked Israel out of the Asian federation," I said.
"I don't like your questions," she responded and began to chant, "Israel killed 50 children; it should be kicked out of FIFA."
Dennis, one of the organizers of the pro-Israel demonstration said: "I'm here to support Israel in a football match. Opposite us, we can see anti-Semites who argue that Israel should be expelled from international sport at a time when Qatar funds terror. They're anti-Semites and that's why they're here. They support Hamas and they hate Israel. The team has Muslims, Christians and Jews. It's a diverse team that's here for the sake of sport. No one wants war. Jews don't want to kill people, but when rockets fall on you that's the result."
The big concern of Israeli sports organizations is that the call to expel Israel will become the norm. A formal attempt by the Palestinians to have Israel expelled from FIFA failed earlier this year, but the call is unlikely to die down, despite the relatively sparse turnout at the Cardiff demonstration.
"They'll try, but the authorities would let it happen, Dennis said. "Wales welcomes Israel warmly, just as was the case when Wales played in Israel. They'll try everything; their intention is to hurt Israel but we will oppose them always."