ISRAEL’S SOCCER DIASPORA
By Ale x Estroff
It is the one time every four years that sports fans across the world are sent into a frenzy of jubilation and those
apathetic to sport pretend to care – it is the World Cup. Everyone appears to be caught in the midst of World Cup hysteria, and why not? It is the month-long celebration of “The Beautiful Game” that offers an excuse to cut work and makes it socially acceptable to hug complete strangers (only when your team scores, though). And while Israel failed to qualify for this year’s tournament, that did not stifle the nation’s enthusiasm for it. In fact, Israelis bought over 12,000 tickets to the Brazilian games, which is the highest amount per capita for a country without a team representing them in the cup.
The mass exodus to the World Cup by Israelis is hard to explain, especially given the fact that the only Jews participating in the tournament are Colombian coach, Jose Peckerman and USA midfielder, Kyle Beckerman (Italian striker Mario Balotelli was raised by Jewish foster parents but he is not practicing). The only possible reason for all the thousands of Jews in Brazil this year is their sheer and ardent love for soccer. This love for the game, however, has been somewhat of an unreciprocated relationship for the Israeli faithful in the past.
A few years after the country’s establishment in 1948, Israel was one of the founding members of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), in which it competed in tournaments and attempted to qualify for the World Cup every four years, which it successfully did in 1970 – Israel’s lone World Cup appearance. In 1974, the Arab- Israeli conflict was intensifying to new levels, causing the Arab nations within the AFC to refuse to compete against a Jewish state, leading to an exile from the confederation, sending Israel into a “soccer diaspora.” With no international affiliation, Israel was unable to even try for a World Cup bid.
In 1991, though, after a stint in the Oceania Confederation, Israel
Perhaps this profound interest in the World Cup is rooted in the tournament’s unique ability to transcend international conflicts. Given Israel’s geopolitical standing, almost everything it does on the worldwide stage cannot help but be politicized. While the politics are still present, the World Cup offers somewhat of a respite from all the madness that usually accompanies everything Israelis do. During this month-long celebration of soccer, it does not matter where you are from or what you believe. The only loyalty that matters is for the “Beautiful Game,” which Jews across the world certainly have no shortage of.became apart of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), where it belongs to this day. While it is better than no affiliation, Israel is at a severe competitive disadvantage within UEFA, as instead of playing against equally matched teams in the AFC such as Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, the Jewish state is forced to go up against some of the world’s elite teams like Germany, Spain, and England. Despite this disadvantage, Israelis and Jews across the world share a persevering love for the game.