The Football Association has been condemned after announcing that Wembley Stadium will not be lit up in blue and white in support of Israel due to the country’s ongoing conflict with Palestine.
In a statement, they also announced that they will ‘remember the victims of the devastating events in Israel and Palestine’ with a one-minute silence before England’s Euro 2024 qualifier match against Italy, and plans to promote a Red Cross emergency appeal to those affected by the war.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews, the largest Jewish communal organisation in the UK, blasted the FA, calling their decision ‘weak and spineless’. They questioned why the FA showed solidarity with France following the Bataclan massacre in 2015 by lighting up the Wembley arch in French colours, but refused to do the same for Israel.
Rabbi Alex Goldberg, chair of the FA’s Faith in Football Network, has expressed his ‘profound disappointment’ with the FA, and plans to quit the network.
“For me, it’s imperative that our responses and actions, especially in international platforms like those at Wembley Stadium, are unequivocal in their support for the victims of such atrocities”, he said.
The FA’s decision has also been heavily criticised by Downing Street, with Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer saying she’d been left “extremely disappointed”.
“Words and actions matter. The government is clear: we stand with Israel,” she said.
Pandora’s box has been opened
It was not a matter of if the FA would be caught in a moral quandary, it was when. Once again, we have an example of what happens when organisations decide to assert themselves as one of the moral arbiters of society. In the FA’s defence, it isn’t the first organisation to be caught between a rock and a hard place in regards to their moral stance on an issue, and neither will it be the last.
Many organisations have been actively political in the past decade. As politics becomes increasingly hostile, many consumers of certain products, food and entertainment are demanding more from the companies they support. It no longer seems enough for organisations to keep a neutral standpoint on issues.
A recent example of this is ice cream brand Ben and Jerry’s open support for the Black Lives Matter campaign, going so far as calling on ‘white America [to] collectively acknowledge its privilege’. It’s become indicative of society’s political trajectory, where politics and business have become intertwined and have a sort of symbiotic relationship.
The issue that comes with this sort of corporate activism is deciding what stance to take on certain issues, which will almost always isolate groups of people on the unchosen side. Due to the uniquely vitriolic and passionate political tensions relating to the ongoing Israel/Palestine feud, the FA could be shown a certain amount of sympathy in regards to its neutral stance on the issue, but to British Jews, this isn’t enough. In some cases, to stay silent or neutral on an issue IS taking a side.
The Wembley arch was lit up in yellow and blue, in solidarity with Ukraine at the beginning of Russia’s invasion of the country, in rainbow colours to show solidarity with the LGBT community during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and in red after terrorist attacks in Turkey outside Besiktas’ stadium in 2016.
None of these examples were ‘neutral’. The FA was clear and firm in its stance on these issues. Why, then, should it not take a similar stance on Israel?
British Jews will be of the opinion that English football was too slow to react to the attacks by the terrorist group Hamas, in which at least 1,300 Israelis have died in what is the worst act of killing of Jews since the Holocaust.
The speed at which the FA reacted to the aforementioned issues should also be taken into consideration. The Wembley arch was lit up in yellow and blue, red and rainbow colours within hours of their respective situations unfolding.
In this case, not only did they spend too much time arguing about how to handle the situation, they didn’t actually take a stance at all. To many, that’s simply not good enough. It’s an indication that some causes are perceived by the FA to be more important than others.
The FA and Wembley were lightning-quick to react to other causes and tragedies. Why the delay for this one?
The FA seems to have been hoisted by its own petard. This is a direct consequence of virtue signalling – it runs the risk of backfiring and isolating groups of people.
Pandora’s box is well and truly opened.
What happens now?
England players are planning to wear black armbands in solidarity with the victims on both sides of the war.
The FA has strictly banned any and all international flags that are not associated with the countries playing inside Wembley Stadium.
Following a terrorist attack in Belgium – where two people were shot dead in Brussels, causing Belgium’s match against Sweden to be abandoned, and which police say could be related to the ongoing war – police in and around Wembley during England’s match against Italy are on high alert and will have a significant presence throughout the evening.