Oy Factor: The Narrow-minded, Ethnocentric, Jewish Moaner’s Guide to the World Cup

Germany and Iran get red cards from the outset, Argentina follows soon after, Bosnia is the surprise wunderkind and our final is a Super Bowl in spades.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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An Adidas logo sits on a FIFA World Cup Brasil football on display inside the Adidas AG sportswear store in Moscow, Russia, on Friday, May 2, 2014.
An Adidas logo sits on a FIFA World Cup Brasil football on display inside the Adidas AG sportswear store in Moscow, Russia, on Friday, May 2, 2014.Credit: Bloomberg
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Billions of people are gearing up for the month-long World Cup extravaganza that starts in Brazil on Thursday. Most people know which team they’ll be rooting for: national or regional representatives; squads with mega-superstars like Argentina’s Lionel Messi or Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo or Brazil’s Neymar de Silva; teams with flair, like Spain, or exceptional teamwork, like Chile. And then there are the procrastinators who prefer to sit on the fence and audition the teams during the preliminary group stage before picking their chosen ones.

But if you’re Jewish, then you are “too focused on past tragedies,” as Pope Francis’ favorite Rabbi Abraham Skorka reportedly said after the Pontiff’s recent visit to Israel. And thus you have no choice but to take into account the historical trials and tribulations visited upon the Jews by the various countries, as well as their current state of relations with Israel. No real Jew can ignore the “Oy-vey Factor” – Oy, for short – a venerated Jewish staple since we sat on the Rivers of Babylon and cried our hearts out.

To this end we have prepared our quadrennial ethnocentric, parochial, narrow-minded, navel-gazing Jewish guide to the World Cup (which, as its name implies, should not be taken too seriously). To level the playing field, we do not divide the teams into groups, like the boys in Brazil, but rather discard them en masse in rounds, in alphabetical order, according to our (subjective) assessment of their history with the Jews. Instead of FIFA rankings, we note the “Anti-Semitism Index” found in the recent global survey carried out by the Anti-Defamation League.

This, therefore, is a guide to the world’s greatest sporting event (in the eyes of humanity, except for a few holdout Americans, Australians and other such primitive folk) for possibly perplexed and soccer-challenged Jews.

First Round – Red Card

These are the teams that aren’t even allowed on the pitch due to past transgressions or current animosity. They include:

Algeria (ADL: 87%): For anti-Israel incitement, for eradicating its once flourishing Jewish community and despite giving the world luminaries such as philosophers Jacques Derrida and Bernard-Henri Levi and perennial Israeli favorite, singer Enrico Macias.

Argentina – (ADL: 24%) Still home to almost 200,000 Jews, but historical safe haven for Nazis (see X-Men: First Class), birthplace of crackpot Jewish conspiracy theories, place of murderous anti-Semitic generals and venue of unresolved 1994 terror attacks.

Croatia (ADL: 33%) For the virulently anti-Semitic and enthusiastically pro-Nazi Holocaust-era Ustaše regime: see Josip Šimunić, star defender, suspended from World Cup for using crowd-pleasing Ustaše-style salute in a December, 2013 international game against Iceland.

Germany (ADL: 27%): Yes, it’s been 70 years, and yes, they give Israel submarines, and yes, they play great football, but no, we’re not there yet. Get back to us in 2036.

Greece (ADL: 69%) The most anti-Semitic non-Muslim country in the world, according to the ADL, where neo-Nazism is enjoying a Golden Dawn. Despite the recent love-fest stemming from the falling out between Israel and Turkey, we remember the Maccabees and the punishing calories of latkes and jelly doughnuts.

Greek national soccer team player Giorgos Katidis, who was banned from representing his country for this Nazi salute in 2013. (Photo by AP)

Iran (ADL: 56%): A no-brainer, of course, despite President Rohani, Israeli singer Rita and allowing us to build the Second Temple 2,500 years ago. Maybe if the P5+1 nuclear talks go well, we can reconsider.

Italy (ADL: 20%): Our most favorite country in the world to visit, with the best food and the nicest people, is still nixed by its Axis with Germany, inventing the Ghetto and the destruction of aforementioned Second Temple.

Switzerland (ADL: 26%) For closing its doors to Jewish refugees in World War II and making billions from their plundered property. In the 18th century, the Swiss restricted Jews to just two villages – Lengnau and Oberendingen – and then took up arms in rebellion when Napoleon tried to set the Jews free. Shape of things to come.

SECOND ROUND – Yellow Card

24 teams are left, and in this round we will eliminate those countries who either have a very mixed record with Jews/Israel or who haven’t ever done anything especially wrong to the Jews, but haven’t been exceptionally nice either.

These include:

Cameroon (ADL: 35%): Could be eligible for promotion if Rabbi Yisrael Oriel, formerly known as Bodol Ngimbus-Ngimbus, can prove that he really is a Levite descended from Moses or that the name of his Ba-Saa tribe truly derives from the Hebrew “On a journey.”

Chile (ADL: 37%): Home to close to 20,000 Jews, many of whom did well during Socialist Salvador Allende but also, unfortunately, under his dictatorial successor Augosto Pinochet. Harbored fugitive Nazis and often refused to extradite them to Germany.

Colombia (ADL: 41%): Bad ADL score, known mainly for shady arms deals with Israel and the violence and instability that drove most of its 12,000 Jews to Miami.

Ecuador (ADL: n/a): Hardly any Jews, but a president, Rafael Correa, who has been at the forefront of anti-Israeli agitation, possibly inspired by his late luminary neighbor Hugo Chavez.

France (ADL: 37%): Home to Rashi, greatest Jewish genius ever, Leon Blum and the first European emancipation of Jews (1791). Undone by long history of Inquisitions, Crusades, the Dreyfus Affair, the Vichy Regime, De Gaulle’s infamous “proud and domineering” description, growing anti-Semitism, annoying foreign policies and the quenelle gesture infamously used by French footballer Nicolas Anelka.

French soccer player Nicolas Anelka performing the now-infamous quenelle salute while playing for English team West Brom in 2013. (Photo by Reuters)

Ghana (ADL: 15%): Home of the born-again House of Israel tribe of Sefwi Wiawso, and the vanguard of Israel’s “special relationship” with Africa, which soon, alas, dissipated.

Honduras (ADL n/a): For somehow managing to involve Jews and Zionist conspiracies in a 2009 coup that deposed President Manuel Zelaya.

Ivory Coast (ADL: n/a): Whose mythological president Felix Houphouet-Boigny wanted to make peace between Israel and the Arabs 45 years ago (and didn’t do any worse or any better than John Kerry).

Japan (ADL: 20%): Which really hasn’t been too bad towards Jews and even helped many of them escape the Nazis, but which is still guilty by association for being their partners in crime. And still takes morbid interest in the best-selling Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Korea (ADL: 53%): Good friend of Israel but ADL rankings decisive (though some claim that assessment of Jewish influence and power is based on awe, not suspicion). Don’t know how to deal with Talmud studies being mandatory in Korean schools, either.

Mexico (ADL: 24%): Home to Jews since 16th century, many persecuted by Spanish Inquisition. Abstained during 1947 partition resolution, but good friend of Israel today, giving warm welcome to Shimon Peres last year.

Nigeria (ADL: 16%): Home to millions who claim to be long lost descendants of the 10 lost tribes. Cut off ties with Israel after 1973 war for 16 years but is all over us now.

Russia (ADL: 30%): The mother lode of Jewish existence in the 20th century, as historian Yuri Slezkine brilliantly asserts in “The Jewish Century.” Hotbed of anti-Zionism and official anti-Semitism for many decades and disturbing proto-fascism today.

Spain (ADL: 29%): Home of Golden Age geniuses such as Maimonides and ibn Ezra, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso (the latter two not being strictly Jewish, unfortunately). Stained by Inquisition, expulsion and Generalissimo Franco. Bending over backwards, though, by offering automatic citizenship to the descendants of those expelled under the 1492 Alhambra Decree.

Uruguay (ADL: 33%): In 1726 vetoed entry of people who are “inferior or of Moorish or Jewish race” but served as point of transit during Holocaust. Voted for Jewish homeland in San Remo in 1920, first Latin American country to recognize Israel.

THIRD ROUND – Green Light

Now we’re down to nine blemished but basically positive types, requiring ever-tougher decisions.

Belgium (ADL: 27%): Resisted German occupation and saved large number of Jews, per capita. Hosts last true ultra-Orthodox enclave in Europe in Antwerp. Led campaign of “war crimes” indictments against Israelis and was scene of recent terror attack at Jewish museum in Brussels.

Costa Rica (ADL: 32%): Restricted entry of Jews till mid-19th century but is home to hundreds of thousands of “Jewish Christians.” A friend of Israel and host to thousands of Israeli tourists annually (including those who marry Costa Rican women and stay in the country).

England (ADL: 8%): From Balfour and Churchill to Sacha Baron Cohen and Nigella Lawson but with the York massacre, mass expulsions, literary anti-Semitism, funny costumes for Jews and British Mandate limits on immigration to Palestine when it was needed most.

The Netherlands (ADL: 5%): Perennial favorite of Israelis since the 70’s, home of “Total Football” and the “Jewish” club Ajax Amsterdam, great ADL ranking, friend of Israel. But successful PR on Holocaust obscures fact that Dutch officials were tragically efficient in locating Jews and sending them to destruction (including Anna Frank).

Supporters of Dutch powerhouse Ajax Amsterdam waving the Israeli flag at a home match last season. (Photo by Reuters)

Portugal (ADL: 21%): Should possibly be lumped together with Spain as originators of dreaded auto-da-fé, but expelled Jews only halfheartedly in 1492, resisted Nazi race laws in WWII, allied itself with Allies and was victim of oil embargo in 1973 for allowing U.S. planes to refuel on way to rearming Israel during Yom Kippur War.

And since some people believe 40% of Portuguese are descendants of converted Jews, I hereby claim players Cristiano Ronaldo, William Carvalho and Pepe on behalf of the Jewish people, for starters.


Four teams left. Competition is fierce. Nonetheless, this is where we part ways, after extra time and penalties, with:

Bosnia (ADL: 32%): Surprise of the tournament. The only territory in Europe to welcome Jews from the 15th-century Spanish expulsion. More Holocaust-era Righteous Gentiles than famously righteous Denmark or Bulgaria. Preserved 14th century Sarajevo Haggadah. Birthplace of my late mother’s favorite heartthrob, the handsome but tragic Yom Kippur War IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar.

The Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the oldest Sephardic Haggadahs in the world. Originating in Barcelona around 1350, the Haggadah is owned by the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, where it is on permanent display. (Photo by Wikipedia)

Australia (ADL: 14%): Liberators of Be'er Sheva under General Allenby in 1917. One of wealthiest, most vibrant and most Israel-loving Jewish communities in the world. Currently overtaking Canada for first place in right-wingers’ Fantasy League. (Welcomed Ashkenazim but refused entry to most Sephardi Jews until 1970 [!] under racist White Australia policy).


(Note to Americans: you wish)

United States (ADL: 9%): Land of the free and home of the greatest Jewish Diaspora community ever, Israel’s mainstay and strategic anchor (even if Israeli leaders don’t always behave accordingly). The place, as George Washington promised in 1790, where “everyone shall sit safely under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”


Brazil (OK, so we bent the rules a bit right near the end. We would call it “hand of god,” a la Maradona, but Brazil would be insulted.)

(ADL: 16%, but the U.S. State Department says anti-Semitism is “very rare”): Played a major role in the establishment of Israel. Israeli drones and security companies are safeguarding the games. Oh, and Milan midfielder Kaká was once rumored to have Jewish blood because his name is Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite (but he was cruelly cut from the 2014 World Cup squad at the last minute anyway).

And just keep in mind that if Brazil doesn’t wave the World Cup Trophy on July 13 at the Estádio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, not only will many Israelis be disappointed, but grief will come to the entire country, including, of course, its 100,000-strong Jewish community. Better “Brace yourself, the Sixth is coming,” as the Brazil slogan proclaims.

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