Muslim footballers face suspension, criticism for supporting Palestinians online

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Several football players have come under fire for speaking on the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, with some facing suspension and others being heavily criticized for their social media posts regarding the conflict.

Dutch footballer Anwar El Ghazi was suspended on October 17 by his German club Mainz 05 for a social media post on the war that the Bundesliga club said was “unacceptable.”

“El Ghazi took a position on the ongoing conflict in the Middle East that was deemed unacceptable by the club,” Mainz said in a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Tuesday.

“Mainz 05 [respects] the fact that there are varying perspectives on the decades-long, complex conflict in the Middle East. However, the club [is] distancing [itself] from the content of the social media post in question, as it does not align with the values of the club.”

El Ghazi, a Dutch international player, made the comments in a “since-deleted” social media post on Sunday evening, the club said, adding that “prior to making this decision, the club and the player had engaged in an in-depth discussion.”

The club did not provide more details on what El Ghazi had said in the deleted post.

France suspends Youcef Atal until further notice

France’s Nice football club has suspended Algerian footballer Youcef Atal for posting what has been deemed as an antisemitic message on social media related to the Hamas-Israel conflict.

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Atal’s suspension reportedly came two days after French prosecutors began investigating the footballer on suspicions of “glorifying terrorism,” following complaints filed by local politicians.

“Given the nature of the shared publication and its seriousness, the club took the decision to immediately take the first disciplinary sanctions against the player, prior to those that could be decided by the sporting and judicial authorities,” the club said in a statement on Wednesday. “As such, the club has decided to suspend Youcef Atal until further notice.”

Atal faced wide criticism since Saturday for reportedly sharing a video from a Palestinian preacher on Instagram, purportedly calling for violence against Jewish people.

The club said the footballer has since deleted the post and issued a public and written apology.

Benzema faces backlash over expressing solidarity for Gaza

French football star Karim Benzema, who now plays for Saudi club Al-Ittihad, is also facing backlash after he expressed support for the people of Gaza in a social media post.

Benzema wrote on X on Sunday: “All our prayers for the inhabitants of Gaza who are once again victims of these unjust bombings which spare no women or children.”

The criticism further mounted after French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin accused Benzema of having connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, which France considers a terrorist organization, according to multiple media reports.

Karim Benzema signs for Al Ittihad Club with Officials Anmar Bin Abdullah Alhailae + Ahmad Issam Kaaki. (Supplied)
Karim Benzema signs for Al Ittihad Club with Officials Anmar Bin Abdullah Alhailae + Ahmad Issam Kaaki. (Supplied)

In a televised interview with TV Channel CNews, Darmanin was reported as saying: “We have closed 1,100 Islamist establishments. And in recent weeks, I’ve been particularly interested, Mr. Benzema is linked, we all know it, notoriously with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

After Darmanin’s comments, French senator Valerie Boyer demanded that the 2022 Ballon D’or winner be stripped of his French citizenship and the Ballon D’or title – an annual award given to the best football player for the year.

“If Karim Benzema is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, we must at least withdraw from him the Ballon d’Or (symbolic sanction) but also and above all his French nationality. Compacting with those who declare war on us would amount to betraying one’s country,” Boyer posted on X on Wednesday.

Fans criticize double standards

Meanwhile, football fans are asking the London club Tottenham Hotspur to take action against its Israeli winger Manor Solomon for his posts on the conflict after Tuesday’s disputed attack on the Al Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza.

Hours after the attack – which killed at least 500 people, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry – Solomon posted on his Instagram story blaming Palestinians for “killing their own people and blaming Israel.”

Israel has blamed Palestinian militants for the attack, a claim supported by the US and independent experts based on evidence, according to media reports. Meanwhile, Palestinians and the Arab world have blamed Israel.

Fans are questioning football clubs’ selective behavior towards some players after claiming their stance is to keep politics out of the game.

“Can Tottenham FC suspend Manor Solomon, after this post, as Nice and Mainz did with Youcef and Anwar El Ghazi,” wrote a user on X, who identified as Hessien Emish.

The club has not yet made any comments on Solomon’s posts.

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