Back in the 1980s, Israel's national soccer team played preliminary World Cup matches against teams from the Oceania group. The Arab and Muslim nations of the Asia group refused to play the Zionist entity, so Israel's footballers were forced to fly halfway around the world and the games were broadcast in the wee hours of the morning.
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Still, it was a friendly contest, especially the matches against Australia, with the Israeli team receiving a tumultuous welcome by the local Jewish community. And when the Socceroos landed in Tel Aviv, they received a raucous reception from Australian Israelis.
In 1992, Israel was accepted to the European group (playing soccer against its neighbors still remains unthinkable), and the games Down Under remain a fond memory. No one at the time thought it strange that Australian Jews, wherever they chose to live, could have warm feelings for both national sides. As it was, both teams had scant hope of reaching the World Cup (the group winner had to play a superior South American team to qualify), and for once it was really all about the sport.
But in the wake of the Ben Zygier case and the bitterness it has apparently engendered in the thriving Jewish communities of Melbourne and Sydney, those soccer contests seem like an age of innocence.
In 1990, Conservative politician Norman Tebbit caused a stir in Britain when he said the successful integration of South Asian immigrants could be determined by the so-called cricket test – whom do they support when England plays their native teams of India, Pakistan or Bangladesh? "A large proportion of Britain's Asian population fail to pass the cricket test," he said. "Which side do they cheer for? It's an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?"
It may be an interesting test but it totally misses the idea of integration. In 2007, England played Israel in the Euro 2008 preliminary stages, and I knew I was instinctively supporting my country of birth, not the country where I had lived for three quarters of my life, served in its army, paid its taxes and voted in its elections. There was no question, I wanted England to win and I could barely muster any feelings of sympathy for the Israel squad.
Had I failed the test? Was I insufficiently integrated? What nonsense.
The bad and the good
There are innumerable reasons to support a sports team. I was born a Manchester United fan back in the days when it failed year after year to win the league. And I continue to love it – even though it has become a corporate behemoth – because of its history, because of my admiration for the genius of Sir Alex Ferguson, and mainly because it's the one thing all my family can agree on. And I will always root for England because despite all the flaws of English soccer, something about it continues to embody for me the finest traditions of the beautiful game, even when some of its players are betraying those traditions.
And while I consider myself in most things more Israeli than English, I detest Israel's national team (and just about every other Israeli soccer club for that matter) because Israeli soccer represents all that is bad about my country of choice. The racism, the parochialism, the lack of any spirit of fair play, the absolute failure of its players, managers and officials to display any of the fine qualities Israel has to offer in abundance.
But it goes much deeper than the latest anti-Israel protest – or soccer. In recent days, as the awful saga of Zygier's secret career and dismal death has unfolded, the media have been portraying dual nationality, or any feeling of dual loyalty, as a shameful cross that Diaspora Jews and immigrants to Israel are forced to bear. But those of us who have lived most of their lives with these dual identities know how far this depiction is from reality, and we have to speak out now.
I am reading reports from Australia, including those by Haaretz's excellent correspondent there, Dan Goldberg, about Australian Jews' fears of being accused of harboring dual loyalties to both Australia and Israel. The dual-loyalty slur is a spurious charge that we must not allow closet anti-Semites to appropriate for their purposes.
For Jews around the world, dual loyalty does not mean a conflict in their allegiance or a lack of faith in their homeland; on the contrary. Jews living in democratic societies in the West do have a dual loyalty: to the national heritage of freedom into which they were born and to a much older tradition that has taught them the mortal dangers of living in a non-free society. That's why Jews have always been at the forefront of any movement for human and civil rights; their dual identity naturally makes them more loyal to the ideals of freedom.
And with that loyalty, for most, comes an affinity for Israel. Some are willing to suspend criticism of Israel, in appreciation of its struggle to remain a democracy in tough times. Other Jews believe that their loyalty should be translated into a heightened responsibility for Israel's many shortcomings as a democracy, so they feel a duty to be hypercritical. Some Jews, probably not enough, are capable of combining both appreciation and criticism.
The Jews who are extreme in their unconditional support for Israel are wrong, as are those who relentlessly criticize it without seeing any merit. Both sets are harmful to Israel as well as their native countries. But as citizens of democracies, they have every right to hold these views and must not be attacked for betraying their country.
In a few cases, people must make a choice. Knesset members and judges have to relinquish their second (or first) citizenships. The select few using their foreign passports for espionage are aware they could be breaking the laws of one of their countries and balance that with the necessity of the mission they are carrying out.
But these are isolated cases that must not be allowed to affect the rest of us. And anyway, our identity is a much more valuable asset than the convenience of having two passports and choosing the shorter line at the airport.
We are proud dual loyalists, and our allegiances to our homelands and our ancient tradition makes us determined to be more loyal to them. We will continue aspiring to their finest traditions of democracy, freedom and human rights.
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