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Fans rally behind Arsenal's Mohamed Elneny after Palestine post backlash

Club holds talks with sponsor after concerns raised about Egyptian footballer's solidarity message
Mohamed Elneny celebrates after scoring for Arsenal against Newcastle United on 2 May 2021 (AFP)

Football fans and social media users have rallied behind Egyptian star Mohamed Elneny, after his club Arsenal held talks with one of its sponsors over the midfielder's pro-Palestine social media post. 

On Monday, Elneny joined a host of footballers who shared messages of solidarity with Palestinians, amid the recent escalation in Israeli violence in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. 

At least 181 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli air strikes on Gaza, including 52 children as of Sunday. Ten people have been killed in Israel from rockets fired from the besieged enclave. 

In the occupied West Bank, 12 Palestinians have also been killed as Israeli police violently crack down on widespread protests sparked by the imminent eviction of six Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem.

Amid the rising tensions, Elneny wrote: "My heart and my soul and my support for you Palestine," accompanied by images of Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque and Palestinian flags. 

However, the statement prompted Tal Ofer, deputy at the Board of Deputies of British Jews, to write to Arsenal and the club's sponsors raising concerns. 

'Urgent talks' with sponsor

According to the Jewish Chronicle, some Jewish fans were angered by the Egyptian's post because it included a picture featuring an outline of Israel with pro-Palestine images within it. 

In response to being contacted by Ofer, Lavazza Group, one of Arsenal's official sponsors, said it would hold urgent talks with the club. 

 "We'll immediately reach out to Arsenal to remark we are concerned about the club associated with such a message," a spokesperson for the coffee brand said.

These are the footballers who shared solidarity messages with Palestine
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"Content of this post is totally not aligned with our company values. Lavazza Group is fully committed against racism and antisemitism."

Arsenal defended the player, but said that the club would hold talks with him about the post. 

"As with any employees of Arsenal, our players are entitled to express their views on their own platforms.  That said, we are speaking to Mo about this so he understands the wider implications of his post," the club said in a statement. 

"As a club we are committed to confronting and eliminating all forms of discrimination and continue to champion the need for equality and diversity across all areas of life."

Ofer and the Jewish Chronicle also reached out to Arsenal sponsor Adidas. However, it did not respond. 

Fans stand by Elneny 

The fallout from Elneny's post has sparked a widespread backlash from football fans and social media users. 

"As an Arsenal season ticker holder, as a Jew, as the son of a Holocaust survivor who lost 39 of her family, I will be writing to Arsenal to say that Tal Ofer's view doesn't represent my view," wrote former South African politician Andrew Feinstein. 

"I respect Elneny for speaking out and I respect the club for allowing him to do so."

"Obviously it's antisemitic to even hint that there may be any kind of Israel lobby pressuring companies, football clubs, universities and governments to censor themselves and others in the face of Israeli atrocities," Middle East Eye columnist Jonathan Cook sarcastically tweeted. "Meanwhile, over at Arsenal... "

Many users called out Ofer for approaching Arsenal and its sponsors over a tweet sharing solidarity.

Last month, the Board of Deputies official sent correspondence to UK Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, which prompted him to pull out of a Ramadan iftar, or fast-breaking meal, because one of the event's organisers supported the boycott of Israeli dates. 

The hashtag "We Support Elneny" was used in English and Arabic, as football fans came to the Egyptian midfielder's defence. 

"We feel proud and honoured of people like you. All the help and support [to you], you star," wrote former Egyptian football icon Mohamed Aboutrika.

Some warned that if Arsenal took action against Elneny, it would draw similarities with the treatment of former teammate Mesut Ozil, who many fans feel was sidelined after he spoke out against the treatment of the persecuted Uighur minority in China. 

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV pulled its broadcast for an Arsenal game following Ozil's denouncement, and removed the player from the Chinese version of the Pro Evolution Soccer video game. 

At the time, Arsenal sent a message to its Chinese supporters distancing itself from Ozil's comments. 

The hashtag "Boycott Lavazza" was shared by several users, who were angry at the coffee brand for putting pressure on Arsenal over Elneny's tweet.

"If one of the club's sponsors have a problem with Elneny sending his support to Palestine: bin them, not Elneny," wrote prominent Arsenal fan Patrick Timmons. 

Liverpool is also sponsored by Lavazza, prompting some fans of the Merseyside club to speak out too. 

"One of our sponsors (Lavazza) is trying to silence a footballer (Mohamed Elneny) who's expressing his views on the atrocities being committed against Palestine," one fan wrote to Spirit of Shankly, Liverpool's official supporters union.

"I hope you'll be speaking out against this attempt at censorship in your next meeting with the club."

A reply to the tweet indicated that the supporters union had raised the issue with Liverpool. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.