Failing the Tebbit Test

My friend Mark is a seasoned Golani reservist who has, time and again, proved his loyalty to this country. But his blind devotion to Liverpool Football Club passeth all understanding, and on Saturday night he will be cheering for England.

My friend Mark is a seasoned Golani reservist who has, time and again, proved his loyalty to this country. But his blind devotion to Liverpool Football Club passeth all understanding, and on Saturday night he will be cheering for England. Almost with tears in his eyes he explained that he is incapable of wishing ill of a team that includes Steven Gerrard. Israeli fans whose adoration of their English League teams reaches a fever pitch are not going to be swayed by mere appeals to patriotism. But these apart, I have the firm impression that immigrants from England - and, I suspect, many Anglo Jews - will be rooting for Israel tomorrow.

You might think that for me it is a no-brainer. Israel has been my home for most of my life, I have earned my livelihood here, voted here, served in its armed forces and I shall be buried here. Yet, culturally and sportingly, I retain a fierce allegiance to England, my country of birth. Against any other team in the world, I would be screaming for England. If you want sporting aggravation you do not need to support Israel; England will do just as well.

Jews are chronically sensitive to allegations of dual allegiance and there can be little doubt that in supporting Israel against England, we fall foul of the notorious Tebbit test. Norman Tebbit, once a minister in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet, claimed that many of Britain's Asians failed what he called the "cricket test": they did not cheer for England when it played cricket against India or Pakistan.

Leaving aside the fact that he conflated England with Britain, he still missed the point. But so did the liberals who were understandably up in arms at Tebbit's overtly racist statement. British Indians were not, as the left claimed, rooting for India's cricket team because they were suffering racial discrimination in England. No doubt they were, but that was not it. The Tebbit test is flawed because national allegiance is only one of a collection of loyalties that everyone owes. We are also loyal to our families, friends, our ethnic origins and, yes, to our favorite soccer teams. On the rare occasions that they are in conflict we plump for the allegiance we feel closest to, but we have not thereby betrayed our other loyalties. There is much to be said against the excesses of multiculturalism, but the sporting metaphor is the wrong one.

Saturday night will see me, untroubled by Tebbit, cheering for my adopted country against my country of birth. In doing so I shall be supporting the underdog and what could be more English than that? Like Dr. Johnson's woman preacher whom he compared to a dog walking on its hind legs, Israel may not play soccer well, but we are surprised it can do it at all.

Of course we want to see Wayne Rooney work his magic but he is not to score a goal. He is to leave that for Yossi Benayoun.