FA faces criticism over decision not to light up Wembley in Israeli colours

ITV News reporter Graham Stothard explains why criticism has been mounting over the FA's response to Hamas's attack on Israel

The Football Association has sent a message that "Jews don't count" for refusing to light up the Wembley Stadium arch in Israeli colours, the government's antisemitism adviser has said.

Lord John Mann's comments come as the FA is accused of having a "weak" response to the current conflict in Israel and Gaza, which has seen more than 2,800 people die on both sides.

Following a surprise attack by Hamas militants last weekend, the British government wrote to UK sports bodies encouraging them to mark the events in Israel appropriately.

Ahead of Friday's friendly between England and Australia at Wembley, the FA announced that players would wear black armbands and that a period of silence would be observed to mark the conflict.

In a statement on Thursday, the FA said: "We will remember the innocent victims of the devastating events in Israel and Palestine.

"Our thoughts are with them, and their families and friends in England and Australia and with all the communities who are affected by this ongoing conflict. We stand for humanity and an end to the death, violence, fear and suffering."

Wembley has lit up its arch for a wide range of causes in recent years. Credit: PA

It added that only flags, replica kits and other representations of nationality would be allowed for the two competing nations inside the arena.

Jewish organisations and some MPs have branded the FA's response as weak and have criticised its decision not to light up the arch.

Over the years the arch has become known as a symbol of solidarity, having previously been lit up in blue and yellow in support of Ukraine, and in French colours after the 2016 Nice terror attacks.

The structure was also illuminated in Pride colours during last year's Qatar World Cup in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, and also in the colours of the Italian flag as Covid-19 led to a wave of deaths in the country in 2020.

"What Jewish people are saying is, 'Yet again, Jews don't count'," Lord Mann told Good Morning Britain, adding: "The Wembley Arch has been lit up repeatedly for a vast array of things."

Considering this, he said the decision not to light up the structure sends the wrong message to British Jews, significant numbers of whom live in north London.

Reacting to the FA's decision, culture secretary Lucy Frazer wrote: “I am extremely disappointed by the FA’s decision not to light up the Wembley Stadium arch following last weekend’s horrific terrorist attacks in Israel, and have made my views clear to the FA. “It is especially disappointing in light of the FA’s bold stance on other terrorist attacks in the recent past. Words and actions matter. The government is clear: we stand with Israel.”

Defence secretary Grant Shapps said it was "extraordinary" that the association thinks it has "come to the right decision" and urged it to think about its "level of consistency".

Board of Deputies of British Jews president Marie van der Zyl said: “After the Bataclan massacre in 2015, when 90 were murdered at a Paris nightclub, La Marseillaise was played at every Premier League stadium the following weekend. “When hundreds of innocent Israelis were murdered, raped and kidnapped in a co-ordinated terrorist campaign, unequalled since 9/11, the FA’s response is ‘to remember the victims of the conflicts in Israel and Palestine’. This weak response brings no credit on the FA.”

The Chelsea Jewish Supporters Group said: "This spineless response is why we need people to speak out against terrorism."

Meanwhile Rabbi Alex Goldberg, chair of the Football Association’s Faith in Football group, has resigned over the debacle, after 16 years of working with the FA.

Asked for his thoughts on the FA's stance at Thursday’s pre-match press conference ahead of the Australia game, England manager Gareth Southgate accepted the conflict is "one of the most complex situations in the world".

“I don’t know what it is like to walk in the shoes of people on either side of that conflict," he said.

"What I do know is people at the FA will have consulted with everybody they possibly can and will have tried to make the best decision with good intentions." Teams in the EFL, Premier League, Women’s Super League, Women’s Championship and Women’s National League will pay tribute to the victims of the conflict in their next rounds of matches.

The England and Wales Cricket Board released a statement on Thursday which read: “We deplore the appalling loss of innocent life following recent events in Israel and Palestine. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of all the innocent victims, and those who are still missing, as well as the communities who are affected. “While sport seems trivial compared to the harrowing scenes we have all watched, it is also an opportunity for people to come together and remind ourselves that there’s far more that brings us together, than divides us. We should now all unify in our hope for peace.” England cricketer Moeen Ali has deleted an Instagram post featuring the Palestinian flag and a quote from Malcolm X. Moeen then put up a new post, without the flag but containing the same Malcolm X quote: “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

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