IN DECEMBER I was on my way from King's Cross station to visit an elderly retired World War II entertainer who lives in a remote North Yorkshire village. As the train passed a seedy section of Finsbury Park, I sat up in my seat as the stunning enormity of the new "Emirates Stadium" met my eye. A lavish and no-expense-spared undertaking, the structure, named for sponsor Emirates Airlines, is due to open this August. Only a short distance from the infamous Finsbury Park Mosque, home to Sheikh Abu Hamza, (the state-funded and now jailed terror-monger), the new stadium replaces Arsenal football ground.
Arsenal has always been the sentimental favorite of Anglo-Jewish soccer fans and, more recently, of the burgeoning Israeli expatriate London community. Unofficially, Israeli and Jewish/Kosher enterprises and businesses have for some time felt comfortable having this particular audience as enthusiastic customers of its products and travel packages.
The Arsenal Football Club recently announced an official link to promote tourism to Israel in the stadium. In a deal worth $600,000, Israel will be promoted on electronic billboards, on banner advertisements on the Arsenal website, and in the club magazine. The Jewish state will be hailed as Arsenal's "official and exclusive travel destination."
But now the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the Jerusalem Post are reporting that Emirates Airlines, which paid for naming rights to the stadium, has declared the deal "unfortunate." An official for the Arab airline has said that the company will "do our best to persuade Arsenal not to renew its deal with Israel." According to the Jerusalem Post, the stadium naming rights cost Emirates $100 million in 2004. The Arsenal website puts the price closer to $200 million.
Responding to the objections, Israel's Tourism minister, Eli Cohen, invited the airline's upper management to visit the country, which is gracious, considering that the United Arab Emirates prohibits Israeli citizens from its shores.
THIS PAST WEEK the strident and influential UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign launched an appeal to its supporters and a wide swathe of anti-Israel British groups targeting Arsenal Football Club. Here is an excerpt of the appeal:
Arsenal FC and individual players have been in the forefront of the "Kick Racism Out of Football Campaign". For Arsenal to sign a deal to promote Israel which denies Palestinians human rights and is illegally occupying Palestinian territory is to go against the very principles of anti-racism.
This campaign is supported by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, \Palestinian Return Centre, Innovative Minds, the British Muslim Initiative, the Muslim Association of Britain, the Palestinian Forum in Britain, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Scottish-Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.
All campaigners are urged to:
Contact Arsenal Football Club reminding them that Israel is a racist apartheid state which is consistently in breach of international law in its human rights abuses; and that such a deal endangers Arsenal's anti-racist reputation.
It is important to note that the Muslim and Anglo-Palestinian groups listed are not fringe elements but mainstream, well-funded British interest groups.
RIGHT NOW the United States is embroiled in a national debate about the takeover of its main Eastern ports by the United Arab Emirates. Not since 9/11 have Republicans and Democrats been so publicly united in their sentiments.
If the Emirates can take a hostile view on a business deal that reflects its core British customers (in this case the large Jewish/Israeli audience at Arsenal games) then how will it begin to influence the conduct of the American Port Authority?
Carol Gould is a drama and documentary producer based in London, the author of Spitfire Girls, and editor in chief of CurrentViewpoint.com.