Soccer and the Jewish Question

Soccer and the Jewish Question

It’s a season for solemn ceremony in the Jewish world. Late last week was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. Today is Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, remembering the approximately 23,000 soldiers and civilians who have fallen in Israel’s wars and many skirmishes, culminating tonight in the beginning of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, a time for celebration. This year, because of the cycles of the Hebrew calendar that determines these dates, Yom Hazikaron falls on my birthday, and after nightfall, I will still be observing my 59th year as Israel commemorates its 60th.

Our khaver, Hillel Schenker, posted on the London Guardian’s blog regarding his mix of feelings about watching an important soccer match on a German television network on Yom HaShoah. Israel blacks out broadcasts on Hebrew language networks that day. To learn about the political and cultural resonances of soccer in Israel, read the following explanation from Hillel, after reading his May 2nd posting, “To watch or not to watch?”:

“Hapoel Tel Aviv was once owned by the Histadrut [trade union confederation], but it’s still considered the ultimate left-wing team in Israel, definitely by its fans. As for Maccabi Tel Aviv, they are associated with the capitalist bourgeoisie, not the Likud. Particularly in basketball, where they rule the roost, they have assumed the role of the nation’s team, milking the government and TV powers for money along the way. It’s considered “unpatriotic” not to support them, something like the role the NY Yankees had/have in New York, a team that assumes it was born to win. However, they are not associated with the Likud, and actually have left-wing supporters as well.

“The Likud team is Beitar Jerusalem, the only Israeli soccer team which has never had an Arab or a Moslem player. Today, virtually every other team has at least one, and frequently a few Arab and Druze players. Hapoel Tel Aviv’s captain is an Arab, Walid Badir, and the captain of the under 21 national team is another Hapoel Tel Aviv minority player, Bibrus Natko, who is a Circassian. As you may know, there is also an Arab team in the top league – Bnai Sachnin, Arab-owned with a Jewish coach. There is a wonderful film made about them: ‘We too don’t have any other country.’ About half the players are Arabs from Sachnin and other Galilean towns, and the other half are Jews and internationals. This year they are one of the top four teams in the league.

“Beitar’s fans, who are extreme right-wing, frequently Kahanists, would rebel if the current owner, Russian oligarch Arkady Gaidamak would bring in an Arab player, something he has said he is ready to do. Olmert has been one of the teams patrons, particularly when he was a Likud member and the Jerusalem mayor. Today, his status vis-a-vis the teams fan base is much more problematic. It will be interesting to see how the fans will react if Gaidamak, who will be running a Social Justice party in the next elections, will dare to include an Arab on the list. Beitar are the current champions, because Gaidamak has outspent all of the other teams by far, buying the best Israeli and foreign players. To make things even more complicated, one of the top Israeli players he bought is Michael Zandberg, who’s mother Esther is a well-known progressive architectural and urban planning columnist in Ha’aretz.

“That’s a brief Israeli soccer l0l course.”

By | 2008-05-07T12:09:00-04:00 May 7th, 2008|Blog|0 Comments

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