Opinion |

Israeli Soccer Star’s Advice to Teammate: Arabs, Leftists Can Shut Up

Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher
Israel's forward Munas Dabbur (C) during the 2022 Qatar World Cup European Qualifiers match between Israel and Austria in Haifa, last week.
Israel's forward Munas Dabbur (C) during the 2022 Qatar World Cup European Qualifiers match between Israel and Austria in Haifa, last week.Credit: JACK GUEZ / AFP
Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher

“It’s an unpleasant experience; I’m saying this as someone who went through it. Munas” – Israeli soccer player Munas Dabbur – “was prepared for it; we got through it. I hope it won’t repeat in the future. We have a nice country, we’ll never manage to understand each other, we won’t solve all the conflicts – let’s at least be united on the national team and enjoy the good team we have. Munas knows he made a mistake, but he apologized and it’s over.”

This is how the star of Israel’s national soccer team, Eran Zahavi, summed up the big victory on Saturday, a 5-2 win over Austria at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup. During the game, Dabbur suffered catcalls from the crowd every time he touched the ball – even though he scored a goal.

The reason? Something he posted during the fighting with Gaza in May; he expressed anger over the Israeli security forces’ actions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. As a result, Dabbur went into a kind of exile, after which he was forced to publicly apologize as a condition for his return.

In simple language, we call that putting an Arab in his place. He’s allowed to play on the Jewish state's national team, whose fans are Jews, but not enjoy freedom of expression.

Wait a minute, which political positions is he forbidden to express? Most of the affair focused on the fact that Dabbur is an Arab Muslim. It’s clear that racism and Jewish nationalism have influenced the worldview that Dabbur received from the management of the Israel Football Association, from his teammates and from the Jewish crowd.

But a Jewish soccer player can’t post such a message either. When was the last time you heard an Israeli soccer star express a left-wing opinion? It’s completely taboo. Dabbur’s protest in his post isn’t an “Arab” position but a leftist one. Articles in the spirit of his comments were published in Haaretz during the fighting in May.

Dabbur’s Arabness isn’t the heart of the matter here. The Israeli mainstream – both the official, the football association, as well as the semiofficial, the fans at Sammy Ofer Stadium and the commentators on social media – have made clear in the Dabbur affair what the consensus is: Leftists are only allowed to play on the national team if they don’t declare themselves such; if they silence and censor themselves.

And if they slip up, they must undergo humiliation: Apologize, retract it and toe the line. The ideology of the Israeli mainstream is distilled in Zahavi’s words, a dictatorial example that isn’t aware of its dictatorialness and is impersonating pluralism.

“I’m saying this as someone who went through it”: You have no idea what it’s like to be an Arab in a stadium full of Jews who hate you. “We got through it”: No, Dabbur got through it. “We have a nice country”: We have empty slogans.

“We’ll never manage to understand each other”: Israel is in a civil war that has no solution. “We won’t solve all the conflicts”: So we, the majority, will continue with the status quo of trampling and silencing the minority; it works beautifully for Zahavi.

“Let’s at least be united on the national team”: In “united,” the intention is that the leftists and the Arabs shut up or follow the herd. “And enjoy the good team we have”: This is the proper utilitarian approach; after we silence him – Dabbur didn’t want to talk after the game – we can exploit the talents of the leftist/Arab for our own benefit. He still owes us goals.

“Munas knows he made a mistake”: Munas knows that an Arab like him isn’t allowed to show off about it. “But he apologized and it’s over”: A good Arab. Go, Israel, go!

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