NEVER mix football and politics. A bit late for that, you might say, when it comes to Glasgow. But it was regrettable indeed that Nir Bitton felt moved to remind some of his own supporters about this old truism this week.

For those who don’t follow football too closely, Bitton, the Celtic midfielder/defender, is a fine player. He is also an Israeli, having played 20 times in international football, scoring two goals in the process.

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Like most Israelis, Bitton spent time earlier on in his life doing national service with the Israeli Defence Force. While he was criticised in some quarters back in 2014 for posting a Hebrew prayer used by the Israeli army, by in large during three years at Celtic he has said next to nothing about his past life in Israel, his political views towards the Israeli government or for that matter his religion.

So what is the problem? Well, for a small, but vocal section of the club’s fans, support for the Palestinian plight in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank has become a cause celebre, the kind of topic worth raising via smoke bombs and banners even as your team are 20 minutes away from recording a historic double treble at Hampden.

Given the circumstances, it seemed rather bizarre that the Mount Florida stadium should be engulfed in plumes of smoke, with banners being unfurled saying ‘Celtic stands with Palestine, End Genocide, End Zionism’. It is Bitton’s misfortune to find himself in the crossfire.

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While dignified, peaceful protest is one thing – Celtic supporters have raised funds for the Palestinian cause and regularly waved Palestinian flags during matches, including their Champions League play-off with Hapoel Be’er Sheva – personal abuse and discrimination is another. Tired of reading messages such as ‘get out of our club’ on social media, this week Bitton bit back.

“I’m just tired of replying to idiots who insult me because I’m Israeli so I’m not gonna reply anymore,” he wrote on Instagram. “…As a father if you guys think I support the death of children or any human being then you are nothing but idiots.

“I’m all up for the banter but not when you guys text my wife’s Instagram. I’m getting abuse for a while so I just felt I had to say that. Don’t mix football and politics, you are better than that. Love you all.”

This, in a nutshell, is why football and politics don’t mix. As much as Celtic and their supporters may pride themselves on speaking out for persecuted minorities, the persecuted minority in this case is Bitton, and he deserves better than being caught in the middle of all this. Celtic also pride themselves on being a tolerant club, open to all, after all. This affair flies in the face of such an image.

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Of course, for every handful of supporters out there who feel it is okay to tell selected players to ‘get out of their club’ on the basis of their nationality, there are thousands who will recoil at all the whole thing.

But when a first team player feels move to speak out publicly against his own supporters, this no longer is the kind of affair which can easily be tidied up and brushed under the carpet.

The Israeli route has been a profitable connection both for Celtic and Scottish football, a lineage which stretches through the likes of Beram Kayal, Rami Gershon and Efe Ambrose, all of whom arrived at Parkhead from Israeli football and had varying degrees of success.

When contacted by the Herald last night, Bitton’s agent Dudu Dahan merely bemoaned the fact more wasn’t done to nip the actions of these internet trolls in the bud earlier. As understandable as it is that Bitton takes the matter rather personally, it is to be hoped indeed that he stays true to his word and won’t allow such a matter to force him out of the club.

It is the wider point, though, that needs re-inforcing. After racist abuse towards Scott Sinclair at Ibrox last season, the Bitton affair is a further reminder that players who decide to come and play their football should never find themselves targeted on the grounds of race or nationality.

When it comes to protecting the rights of minorities, those who preach tolerance can’t pick and choose their causes.