Pres. Isaac Herzog speaks at the event
Pres. Isaac Herzog speaks at the eventKobi Gideon/GPO

On Sunday, Israeli President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog began their official visit in the United Kingdom by visiting Chelsea FC’s “49 Flames: Jewish Athletes and the Holocaust” exhibition at Stamford Bridge.

The exhibition, featuring British-Israeli street artist Solomon Souza’s portraits of Jewish athletes murdered by the Nazis, is part of Chelsea FC’s “Say No to Antisemitism” campaign led by club owner Roman Abramovich.

Joining the President and the First Lady were Chelsea FC club owner Roman Abramovich, club chairman Bruce Buck, artist Solomon Souza, and Holocaust survivor and former weightlifting champion Sir Ben Helfgott MBE, who celebrated his 92nd birthday as part of Sunday’s event.

President Herzog began by addressing Sunday morning’s terror attack in Jerusalem, saying: “This morning, Jerusalem received another brutal reminder of where hatred can lead, when a Hamas terrorist murdered an innocent young man in cold blood in the Old City of Jerusalem and wounded many other Israelis. The victim was Eliyahu Kay, a young twenty-six-year-old new immigrant from South Africa.”

“The fact that the terrorist came from the so-called ‘political wing’ of Hamas shows that the British government is absolutely correct to proscribe the whole of Hamas as a terrorist organization, and I call on the rest of the international community to follow suit.”

President Herzog toured the exhibition and praised the power of sports to bring out the best of the human spirit but warned: “The culture and politics of sports oftentimes bring out the worst in our natures, as we have seen, over and over again, in anti-Semitic, racist, and violent incidents inside and outside stadiums, and in the refusal of athletes to compete against, or shake the hands with, their Israeli counterparts.”

The President praised the 49 Flames exhibition and said: “The Jewish athletes portrayed in Solomon Souza’s stunning 49 Flames exhibit represent the strength and beauty of human will, performance, and commitment to excellence, and the combination of pride in the countries they represented, and in their Jewish heritage.”

The President wished Sir Ben Helfgott, a Holocaust survivor and weightlifting champion, a happy 92nd birthday and said: “Yours is a story about the power of an unbreakable will to overcome the darkest evil, and of the ability of the human spirit, to overcome the greatest inhumanity.”

“The inner strength and resolve necessary to go from a concentration camp inmate in 1945, to competing in Israel in the Maccabiah Games in 1950, and in the Olympics in 1956, is almost unimaginable. Your iron will was expressed through your accomplishments in weightlifting, but perhaps even more so—through your determination to rebuild your life, and your life-long mission to make sure we never forget the Holocaust, its victims and its lessons.”

He added: “As President of the State of Israel, I salute you. As a Jew, I am filled with pride.”

The President concluded by thanking Chelsea FC for its “Say No to Antisemitism” campaign, saying: “Your football club is a shining example of how sports and teams can be a force for good, and for shaping a more tolerant tomorrow.”

“As President, I will continue to encourage and advance initiatives that harness the power of sports to bring out the best in all of us, create more tolerant societies, and build a more peaceful world.”

Finally, Chelsea FC chairman Bruce Buck gave President Isaac Herzog a gift from the football club: a Chelsea FC shirt signed by the club’s players.

Sir Ben Helfgott's 92nd birthday event
Sir Ben Helfgott's 92nd birthday eventKobi Gideon/GPO
At the Chelsea FC stadium
At the Chelsea FC stadiumKobi Gideon/GPO