Authorities in France briefly prohibited Israeli soccer fans from flying the Star of David flag ahead of a UEFA Europa League qualifying match Thursday, igniting furor from fans and Israeli officials.
Police in the northeastern city of Strasbourg initially banned fans of Maccabi Haifa from waving the Israeli flag at their match against RC Strasbourg, citing fears of violence following anti-Semitic actions against fans of the Israeli club. Just 600 Haifa fans were allowed into the Stade de la Meinau for the match.
Haifa fans were also forbidden from wearing team shirts or other gear on match day, the Israel National News reported.
The ban caused widespread backlash from Maccabi Haifa fans and criticism from the Israeli government.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Yisrael Katz demanded that Frech authorities withdraw its restrictions against the Israeli fans, while Aliza Bin-Nun, Israel’s ambassador to France, said the Israeli flag “should symbolize brotherhood and freedom between the two teams – two values of the French Republic that were being currently denied to the supporters of Maccabi Haifa,” in her conversations with French authorities.
Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev told the Jerusalem Post it was “unthinkable that a supporter of an Israeli team will walk around in fear in a French sports stadium and banned from carrying his team’s banner or national flag.”
French police later backtracked slightly, saying that fans could now wave the Israeli flag inside of the venue starting around 6:30 p.m. local time. However, the restriction was kept in place outside the stadium and on the streets of Strasbourg, The Jerusalem Post reported.
“I hope to see many fans, flags, and goals,” said Katz.
Strasbourg won the match, 3-1. The two teams are scheduled to play again in Haifa next week, with the winner of the two-legged tie progressing to the third qualifying round of the tournament.
Fox News’ Kira Grant contributed to this report.