Amid Threats of Far-Right Hooligan Violence, Maccabi Haifa Fans Watch Team Lose to French Side RC Strasbourg
Following police concerns that far-right French hooligans would attack fans of the Maccabi Haifa soccer team attending a crucial European qualifier against French side RC Strasbourg, the game took place in an atmosphere of calm on Thursday night, local media outlets reported.
But there was little on the field of play to cheer up the 600 traveling Haifa fans, who watched their team lose 3-1 ahead of next week’s return leg in Israel. The Israelis were down to ten men for most of the game, after defender Ayad Habashi received a red card in the 44th minute for a foul that resulted in a Strasbourg penalty.
Meanwhile, Hapoel Beersheba — the other Israeli team aiming to qualify for the Europa League — achieved a 2-0 victory in their away match against Kazakhstan side Kairat earlier on Thursday, setting themselves up for a comfortable return tie in Israel next week.
Thursday’s match at the Meinau Stadium in Strasbourg took place after an assault on three Haifa supporters in the city center by local thugs the previous evening. The victims escaped unharmed and contacted the Maccabi Haifa team, which in turn alerted the police.
In a later interview with the Israeli news outlet Israel Hayom, one of the Israelis said they were surrounded by five or six men who “shouted that we were Maccabi Haifa [fans]. We told them we were just tourists, but really quickly they started slapping us, throwing chairs and hitting, and punching us in the face.”
The supporter, who gave his name as Ayalon, added: “Some of the locals got up to get them off us and they [the assailants] ran away. We’re really worried about what will happen next, and we don’t know if we’ll be at the game.”
The assault on the Israeli fans occurred despite strict restrictions imposed by the Strasbourg authorities, who issued a decree on Tuesday that set out precisely where fans of both teams would be allowed to congregate before the game, limited the Israeli contingent to just 600 fans, and banned the display of national flags and the use of fire crackers. An earlier misunderstanding that the restrictions applied to Israeli fans only, rather than both sets of supporters, drew furious protests from Israeli government ministers and diplomats in France.
The Strasbourg authorities justified the measures by claiming they had received information that “violent supporters” of both teams had made contact for the purpose of arranging clashes around the match. The decree noted that many of the supporters were “politicized or identified as being at the origin of manifestations of antisemitism.”
According to local news outlet Rue 89 Strasbourg, RC Strasbourg fans have an outspoken far-right component. A 2018 investigation by the paper highlighted one group of far-right fans who call themselves “Strasbourg Offender.” Members of the group are known for making Nazi salutes at rival fans, and regularly boast in online forums about their readiness to confront the French police presence at matches.