Israel is doing very well in the Davis Cup, currently being played in Malmö. But one demonstration against the Israeli team’s presence mobilised 6000. According to Malmö police chief, Håkan Jarborg Eriksson, some demonstrators declared an intention to “stop the match at any cost” and consequently 1000 officers were mobilised. When masked demonstrators tried to crack open police vans outside the stadium with rocks and explosives, what the police were actually doing remains unclear. It must be particularly galling for these vicarious Palestinian nationalists that the Israeli Davis Cup team isn’t cracking. Au contraire – they just beat Sweden.
Hardly anybody was in the 4000-seater stadium to see it because Malmö’s Sports and Recreation Committee had ordered that the match be closed to the public – for security reasons. That was a terrible response.
Israeli journalist David Stavrou, writing in Sweden’s The Local, is strongly critical of the way Swedish officials have handled things. They punished the fans and sold out on the Davis Cup and in particular the Israeli team. Since this may well happen again I think it is worth taking notice of this pusillanimity on the part of Malmö’s officials and how it has strengthened hatred. Read Stavrou’s piece in full:
“According to Bengt Forsberg, chairman of the committee, there was no political motive behind the decision. Though police had said the match could go ahead and that the public could be admitted, Forsberg’s committee decided not to take the chance. “This is absolutely not a boycott”, he explained, “We do not take political positions on sporting events. We have made a judgment that this is a high-risk match for our staff, for players and for officials”. In other words, someone made a threat and the city of Malmö decided to cave in.
To many this may seem reasonable at first sight. Why take unnecessary risks? If there are concrete threats, it could be claimed, everything must be done to avoid casualties. But in this age of terror and violence where does this end?
Anyone who has been anywhere near a Stockholm derby football match, for example, couldn’t miss the extensive police presence. Policemen on foot, on horse and in helicopters above try to maintain the peace, at an enormous cost to the tax payer, while large groups of drunken young men throw objects at the field, terrorize other spectators and get involved in large scale fights. The authorities, quite rightly, have decided time and again to fight hooliganism and protect peaceful football fans. It is, after all, a basic civil right to engage in sporting activities without being subjected to threats and violence. There has been talk of anti-hooliganism legislation, and the National Council for Crime Prevention even proposed treating hooliganism as organized crime. But in the case of the tennis match in Malmö, the combative rhetoric disappears and the ones who are punished are the fans instead of the hooligans. Why is this?
One explanation is that Mr. Forsberg and his committee aren’t being entirely honest or they may be extremely naïve. Despite their claims, any decision at this level is political. Obviously, no one will stop the money making and extremely popular football league because of threats. In this case, freedom and democracy will prevail against the dark forces of violence. But when it comes to a tennis match against Israel the attitude changes. Mr. Forsberg obviously doesn’t care much about a match against a team from a country that a large part of his constituency hates anyway. I wonder if the good citizens of Malmö would approve of banning fans from a Malmö FF game because someone said he’s so pissed off that he might hurt someone.
At the risk of being accused (yet again) of promoting paranoid theories of Anti-Semitism I’ll add the following point: after giving in to threats such as the ones made by angry Anti-Israel demonstrators, why shouldn’t the City Council of Malmö close down the Jewish cemetery and synagogue since they were already attacked and are definitely at a high risk of being attacked again? Why shouldn’t pro-Israel demonstrations be banned since demonstrators are often met by angry stone-throwing mobs? In fact, why shouldn’t local authorities close down the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm or the Jewish centre in Helsingborg, both of which have recently been attacked?
This scenario may have sounded unrealistic a few months ago, but the decision to ban the public from the Davis Cup match shows that it is more than possible. A few Jewish or Israeli targets may not affect most Swedes but it’s a slippery road. If a few threats on a relatively minor sporting event can empty a 4,000 seat arena, just imagine what a real terrorist attack would do to Swedish society. Would a terrorist attack on a local bus close down the public transport system? Will night clubs and restaurants lose their licenses if they are targeted by terrorists? Will municipalities say they prefer not to risk going on with daily life even when the police clearly say they can handle the work load? Regardless of political convictions, there must be a consensus that a modern freedom loving democracy has to protect itself against violent extremists. In the post 9/11 world, perhaps it’s time for local authorities to realize that the times, they are a’changing.”