Soccer, boycotts, racism and Israel

The United Arab Emirates deems itself as the epitome of modernity among the largely conservative Islamic nations of the Gulf region. It brags about tolerating a cosmopolitan culture and society that is intolerant towards racism and boasts of a fresh industrial revolution which has resulted in an influx of skyscrapers; a ubiquitous sight in the cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This roaring success is largely seen as a welcome change in an otherwise turbulent and chaotic region. But looks can be deceptive and the UAE has been successful in camouflaging its ugly, dark and radical face.

The good-boy image of the UAE was shred to bits last week when Dan Mori, an Israeli footballer playing for Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem, was denied entry to the Gulf state. In fact, the UAE has issued a ban on anyone carrying an Israeli passport. It is as a result of their strong support for a Palestinian state and a venomous hatred towards anything that has a touch of Israel in it. Boycotting a country for a good cause seems reasonable, it is absurd in the case of Israel, but persecuting innocents on the basis of their nationality is deplorable. Last year, Itay Shechter, also an Israeli footballer, was banned from the UAE. He was left out of the Swansea squad which was gearing up for a friendly in the country.

Israeli football has suffered miserably due to a unique brand of racism that exists, even today, in many Arab countries. Israel was a member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) from 1954 to 1974 and it was a force to reckon with. Israel won the 1964 Asian championship and was twice finalist. But the watershed moment in Israel’s footballing history was its qualification for 1970 FIFA World Cup. It was pitted against the heavyweights of football, Italy and Uruguay. Israel managed to secure two points after draws with Italy and Sweden. In 1974, Israel was expelled from AFC and spent the next 21 years as a wandering pariah. In 1994, two decades of torpor culminated in the Israel national football team getting full membership in Europe. This also meant that Israeli football would find it difficult to cope with the dominant powers of European football. But Israel has defied logic and has adapted to the ways of European football. It has failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup but its overall performance in the qualifying stage has provided renewed hope.

This feeling of animosity towards Israel is a common feature among many Arab and several other predominantly Islamic nations. While they maintain that they are actually boycotting Israel because of the ‘barbaric’ treatment of the Palestinians; the truth is that an air of antisemitism pervades the very fabric of these states. The worst part is that they tend to ignore the faults of the Palestinians and turn a Nelson’s eye to acts of violence and brutality being perpetrated around many corners of the globe.

The case of India and Pakistan is an interesting one. The two neighbouring countries began their hostilities ever since their independence in 1947. Both the countries claim Kashmir and India was hit by a wave of terrorism some two decades ago which is very much alive today. They have fought four brutal wars and skirmishes between the two neighbors are quite common. Tensions may exist at the diplomatic level but that does not mean that Indians are barred from entering Pakistan and vice-versa. Both the countries frequently battle it out in the cricket field, which evokes a chauvinistic fervor among both sides. Cricket matches are also used as a means of conflict resolution between India and Pakistan.

But even Pakistan harbors a deep-rooted abhorrence of Israel. There are, virtually, no diplomatic relations between Israel and Pakistan. Pakistan has also imposed strict restrictions on Israeli passports. The Pakistani attitude towards Israel underscores its great hypocrisy. The same applies to the case of the UAE and the rest of the racist bandwagon.

This blind hatred of Israel is simply nauseating. It becomes even more outrageous when the United Nations fail to condemn this growing display of antisemitism. The UN is quick to condemn Israel’s retaliatory strikes on terrorist hot-spots but why does the international organization which preaches peace fail to take action against this incessant racism. Serious questions need to be raised about the UN’s indifferent attitude towards Israel.

The ban imposed on Dan Mori is not the first instance of discrimination against Israeli citizens. In 2011, Yossi Benayoun, probably Israel’s greatest footballer, was racially abused in Malaysia. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, an Iranian athlete withdrew from a Judo match because his opponent was from Israel.

Israel is the only country in the world which faces such widespread discrimination. The Palestinian cause is only an excuse used to justify this hatred but the truth is that this hatred of Jews existed even before Israel was born. Boycotts and racial taunts are only new found methods of expressing their hatred.




About the Author
Andrew I. Pereira is pursuing his M.A. in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), India.