Since the fighting in Gaza broke out, a lot has been said about reactions around the world to the violence. However, it's doubtful if any Israelis really felt this reaction as personally as the players of Bnei Hasharon did last night during their Group D game against Turk Telekom Ankara.
The basketball game between the two teams was suspended yesterday after Turkish fans erupted in protests against the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, Turkish media reported. It would seem that watching a EuroCup game was the last thing spectators who came to the stadium had on their minds. They were more focused on shouting "death to the Jews" and waving Palestinian flags.
If it weren't for the advanced preparations by the Turkish police, which prevented the masses from attacking the Israeli players a few seconds before the opening whistle, a serious disaster might have transpired.
A referee suspended the game between Ankara and Bnei Hasharon and ordered the players back to the dressing room after hundreds of Turkish fans began chanting "Israel, killers!" in an Ankara sports center, SkyTurk broadcaster reported.
Despite Turkey's good ties with Israel and its secular Muslim nature, the violence in Gaza has sparked mass street protests and harsh criticism from the government.
According to Zeev Baram, Bnei Hasharon's GM, the crowd started harassing the Bnei Hasharon players during warmups, as spectators "threw shoes and water bottles at us yelling 'death to the Jews' and other calls on behalf of Palestine." Baram observed, "Most of them did not even look like Telekom Ankara fans, but rather people who came to protest. It was horrible."
The general manager said the tension grew just before game time. "A moment before jump ball, somebody in the stands whistled, and then the 2,500-3,000 people who were in the stands suddenly stormed toward the floor," he explained. "The large police force simply couldn't stop the masses. I yelled immediately to the players to run to the locker room. It's lucky we made it to the locker room without anyone getting hurt."
The Turkish police, which has escorted the team since its arrival at the airport, drew commendations from Bnei Hasharon. "The police acted intelligently in that they didn't allow spectators to sit in the first four rows, otherwise we wouldn't have had enough time to flee. It was very scary. The Americans are particularly frightened, scared to death. They're just guys who came to play a game."
The large police force took several long minutes before managing to clear the protestors from the parquet. "Many Muslims came to this game and not to cheer for Ankara," reported Turkish journalist Engin Kocabiyik, who was at the game. "The Israeli players ran for their lives, it was a scary atmosphere."
Telekom Ankara had "no comment" after the game.
Ironically, officials from ULEB, which oversees the EuroCup, are considering whether to slap Bnei Hasharon with a technical loss. The official line is that the team refused to play even after the crowd was kicked out of the hall.
"We're not thinking about that at all," Eldad Aconis told Haaretz after the team returned to its hotel. "We want to do now is safely return to Israel. People who weren't here can't understand what went on here. A technical loss is a scandalous decision, and I hope if it is made it will be reversed."
(Reuters contributed to this article)