Editor’s note: For the sake of privacy, First News has decided to refrain from showing the photo in question.
LIBERTY, Ohio (WKBN) — A picture posted on the social media sites of the families of Liberty High School’s soccer team — sites that have 50 or so followers — has people in Youngstown’s Jewish community upset about the content, while a leading official with the Palestinian community sees nothing wrong with it.
The picture was posted Monday on social media sites after the Liberty soccer team’s double overtime win over Brookfield. It shows 28 people — most of them Liberty soccer players — standing in a row, in the middle of which a Palestinian flag is held by someone wearing a black hood and black mask with only his eyes visible.
Upon seeing the picture, Bonnie Burdman, with the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, contacted Liberty superintendent Andy Tommelleo, with Burdman describing the picture as “appalling and unacceptable.”
“It should be about the sportsmanship and about the excitement and working together as a team — and instead there was a very deliberate message sent in that photo that was really inappropriate,” Burdman said. “It was taken in the context of a school activity.”
Burdman was told by Tommelleo that the picture was posted on an official Liberty schools social media site.
“My assumption was that it was on our site,” Tommelleo said.
But Tommelleo later learned the picture was posted to the Facebook and Instagram pages of the Liberty soccer team. The Liberty schools have no say over the sites.
“They were not on Liberty-sanctioned sites,” Tommelleo said. “We don’t have the ability to remove those.”
Suhad Hadi, president of liberty’s Arab American Community Center, does not think the picture should be removed.
“I am 100% OK with it,” Hadi said. “If a child waved the Israeli flag at their soccer game, I’m not going to advocate for taking any pictures down that have that.”
The Liberty schools are culturally diverse — with both Jewish and Muslim students.
On Wednesday, the superintendent wrote a letter to the Liberty Jewish community, stating that he instructed “all parties responsible to remove the photo.”
“For the hurt and disappointment this has caused the Jewish community, we are deeply regretful,” the letter read.
“It’s wrong in a sense that we never want to connect sports and politics for school issues. That really was our focus. It’s a learning opportunity, a great learning opportunity for all of us,” Tommelleo said.
“We should change the narrative, sit our children down and maybe have these open discussions. I know they’re hard, but what better opportunity than to sit children down and tell them, ‘Well, maybe this is how these boys felt.’ Maybe we should talk to them, maybe we learn to sit and talk across the table,” Hadi said.
“If they believe that there’s an effort to control narrative, I suggest that people just look at what Hamas terrorists have been putting on social media of the people they killed and kidnapped,” Burdman said.
The Liberty soccer team Thursday night played a sectional final match against Beachwood High School — a predominantly Jewish community near Cleveland — after the superintendents of both schools talked earlier in the day and decided to play the game. Liberty lost to Beachwood 8-0.