Soccer Is Not Just Soccer When Jews Compete Against Arabs

Leave it to Gideon Levy to turn a soccer spat into an indictment of our nation. I’m sure Levy cares deeply about Israel’s soul and that is why he never misses an opportunity to twist even the smallest of things out of proportion in order to tar and feather us into submission to his view of right and wrong.

Levy calls his diatribe: When a Soccer Game Reflects Israel’s Ugly Nature and he is referring to Thursday’s game (April 21) between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Bnei Sakhnin that took place in Haifa. (I have a feeling Levy would not have seen a story here had the sports announcers not gone on and on about how Ben Haim and the entire Maccabi Tel Aviv team should have waited until Ottman could have his strained muscle massaged.)

Bnei Sakhnin player holds hurt thigh and Maccabi TA player continues soccer game
Ali Ottman (18) holds strained muscle and Tal Ben Haim (11) continues play. Screenshot from youtube video of the game.


Levy prefaces his article with the claim that:

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s unfair, unethical victory over a team from the Arab town of Sakhnin last week serves as a perfect metaphor for the state’s actions.

I wonder what he would have said if it had been Sakhnin that used the (legal but ungentlemanly) opportunity to score a goal and win the game had it been Maccabi TA’s player that was slightly injured. Probably nothing. As he would have said nothing if the incident had occurred between 2 predominantly Jewish teams – Maccabi TA versus Maccabi Haifa, perhaps? That would not be news.

Is It Fair to Use a Jewish-Arab Soccer Game as a Metaphor for Israel-Arab Relations?

Levy has the gall to claim that :

Israeli soccer is not a reflection of this country. It’s almost the only near-egalitarian meeting place between Jews and Arabs here (with the exception of Beitar Jerusalem). It’s the only place for Israeli Arabs to excel in, despite all the manifestations of racism.

I guess having Arab university professors, judges (and a Supreme Court judge as well), an Arab Police Commissioner, etc etc etc, do not count. And . . . “all” the manifestation of racism? Sure there is discrimination, but it is not accurate to paint our country apartheid, Mr Levy.

Then, while he protests that he is not comparing a killing and a goal, he writes:

For a moment, the emotions that gripped me during the game were only a little less – how embarrassing – than the turmoil I felt while watching the execution by the Israeli soldier in Hebron last month. I’m not comparing between a killing and a goal, or between a despicable taking of life and an unfair victory. However, the behavior of the stronger party was astonishingly similar in both cases: aggressive, brutal and arrogant, and therefore outrageous.

Bnei Sakhnin fans in red and white
Bnei Sakhnin fans at start of the match. Screenshot of youtube video of the game.

I could not see a connection between taking advantage of a perfectly legal but not-nice soccer move and the words, aggressive, brutal, arrogant, outrageous. But never fear! Levy explains what he means:

Maccabi continued to play because it could, and Israel continues doing what it does because it can. Maccabi continued because nobody stopped it. Nobody is stopping Israel, either. For Maccabi, it is victory at any price and to hell with all the rest. The same goes for Israel – its victory is always at any cost, and it, too, is allowed to do anything.

There are lots of things Israel would do if we wanted to live up to Levy’s characterization of us – such as: storming and taking over the Temple Mount, such as transferring all the population of eastern Jerusalem to other towns far away from the armistice line, perhaps cancelling Oslo in recognition of the fact that it was a dismal failure of an idea. If we were aggressive, brutal, arrogant and outrageous we really wouldn’t care what others thought of us. But we don’t do those things I mentioned, not because we CANnot, but because we DO NOT WANT to, because doing so does not fit in with how we see ourselves.

It is the Arabs who now call themselves Palestinians who do what they want because they can: they stab us in the back, they ram us with cars, they pelt us with stones. Not because we occupy and oppress them, but because they hate us and can do these things and get away with it (well, except for the unfortunate pawns who get themselves killed bidding the calls of incitement against Jews). The world labels us oppressors even though the Arabs who now call themselves Palestinians signed a piece of paper called the Oslo Accords in which they agreed to the current status quo until final negotiations on their status will have been completed.

Levy Confuses Ethics With Law

Levy says that what Maccabi did was not ethical. Well, I think that is putting it a bit strongly. It was not gentlemanly, perhaps. Some say it was not sportsmanly. I think sportsmanship would have been demonstrated by the Sakhnin coach had he sucked up the loss and accepted that his team was caught not paying attention to the ball.

More importantly, Levy mixes up terms in the way a bad writer mixes metaphors:

What has Maccabi to do with ethics? That’s like asking what Israel has to do with international law.

No. It is not at all like that. Ethics is one thing and law is another. I won’t get into the legal arguments at this point as I just wanted to point out that Levy tries to talk about oranges and apples as if they are the same.

shaking hands in middle of soccer game
Doesn’t look like the soccer players, themselves, hold a grudge.

Levy: The Fans Don’t Understand What All the Fuss Was About.

And he goes on, comparing a killing with a goal:

It wouldn’t be such a wild guess to say that these are the very same Israelis who don’t understand what the fuss was about in Hebron, either.

Levy claimed that he wasn’t really comparing a killing with a goal. He did write those exact words. But here is, still pontificating about the (legally ‘stolen’) goal and a possibly illegal shooting of a terrorist (the soldier is innocent until proven guilty so please let’s wait for the trial). And acting as if he is the only Israeli with moral clarity,

Levy Accuses the Referees of Complicity Through Inaction

Well, I guess Levy doesn’t understand the responsibilities of the referees and so he can write:

Then there are the referees who looked away and kept silent. It’s not their role to intervene. They don’t have the authority. That, too, is so similar and familiar.

It is their job to evaluate behavior on the field according to the rules and not according to their niceness or lack thereof. If an action is deemed to be against the rules then of course the referees will blow their whistles and determine penalties. It most certainly is their role and they have the authority to do this. So your metaphor breaks down, Mr Levy.

The Dutch Coach Stands in for the World, No Less

I am sure Peter Bosz did not know that accepting the job of coach of an Israeli soccer team meant that he was carrying on his shoulders responsibility for all the World’s supposed misdemeanours toward the Arabs who now call themselves Palestinians:

Then there’s the world, in the form of Maccabi’s Dutch coach, Peter Bosz, who also found contemptible reasons for the abomination – just as the equally miserable European Union finds excuses for its inaction.

I might accuse the EU of inaction, but I think it would be quite different from the kind of inaction Levy means. In any case, Bosz is not a stand-in for world political leaders. That’s too much of a stretch.

Levy: Shoot and Kill

In the dramatic conclusion to this article, Levy once more compares a killing with a goal (even though he protests that he is not):

In soccer as in life. Ben Haim [the Maccabi TA player] runs forward and who will stand in his way? Certainly not those bleeding hearts with their ethics-shmethics. So shoot, Ben Haim, shoot. And kill, Azaria [the Hebron shooter], kill. You both can. You’re both hot shots.

In Levy’s world there are no complexities, only black and white. And the Jewish state is the devil incarnate. I don’t know if he ever recognizes error (or evil, God forbid!) on the part of the Arabs who now call themselves Palestinians; it appears that he sees the Arabs as perpetual victims:

Some commentators explained that Bnei Sakhnin’s coach, Yossi Abukasis is not perfect, either – something they always say here about the rival or the enemy, to assuage our near-unperturbed conscience. It was all there on the field in Haifa. Then, of course, there are the Arabs, who are once more the real victims.

And you, Mr Levy, are the paragon of virtue.

Levy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Maccabi TA fans cheering near end of soccer match.
Maccabi Tel Aviv fans cheering near the end of the match.

While trying to paint the predominantly Jewish team as behaving despicably toward the predominantly Arab team, Levy admits:

. . . to Maccabi’s credit, they would have acted like that toward any team, regardless of religion or race.

One could read that as meaning that Levy understands that the soccer team was just acting out its desire to win (horrors!) and not out of any racist or anti-Arab sentiment.

Or, if one wants to carry on along the metaphoric lines set out by Levy, himself, we could say that Israel would behave toward any other people the way we behave (according to him) toward the Arabs who now call themselves Palestinians. So, after successfully occupying and oppressing the Palestinians, we may set out, at any time now, to occupy and oppress the rest of the world. And Levy does not consider himself antisemitic, or even an unwitting tool in the hands of Israel’s antisemitic enemies around the globe?


This article first appeared in Israel Diaries.

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