Muslims tell Chelsea's two Israelis to stay home

KUALA LUMPUR Mon Apr 28, 2008 5:49am BST

1 of 2. Chelsea's Tal Ben-Haim controls the ball against Huddersfield during their English F.A. Cup fifth round football match at Stamford Bridge in London February 16, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Muslim groups have urged the Malaysian government to stop Chelsea's two Israelis from entering the country when the team visits in July, warning the tour could face protests if they are allowed in.

Chelsea, whose coach Avram Grant and midfielder Tal Ben Haim are Israeli citizens, are set to play in mainly Muslim Malaysia as part of their Asian summer tour.

Malaysia has no ties with Israel and normally bars Israelis from entering the country, but the home minister decided at the weekend to allow the pair to enter the country, on the grounds they were taking part in a sporting event, free of politics.

A group of 21 Muslim and non-government groups now want the government to reverse its decision and has sent a petition to the minister.

"If the Israeli footballers are allowed entry, the government would be seen as being insensitive to the feelings of the Palestinian victims of Israeli ethnic cleansing and atrocities, and the majority of the Malaysians who sympathise with them and support their struggle for justice and peace," the petition says.

Mohd Azmi Abdul Hamid, a spokesman for the group, said on Monday that the signatories would consider staging protests during the tour if the government refused to back down.

"People are very, very angry with the decision, so we are going to have discussions on this," he said.

The last time Israeli athletes were allowed in Malaysia was for the 1997 ICC Trophy cricket tournament, which resulted in street protests in Kuala Lumpur.

The London club are due to play Chinese Super League team Guangzhou Pharmaceutical on July 23 and a Malaysia select team in Kuala Lumpur on July 29.

(Reporting by Mark Bendeich)

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