Israel’s national soccer team celebrated prematurely after chalking up two wins in the past week, putting itself even closer to securing a berth in the World Cup that will take place in Qatar in 2022.
Israel defeated Austria 5-2 to the cheers of Israeli fans at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa on Saturday, a few days after it defeated the Faroe Islands 4-0. Thanks to these two victories, the Jewish state was second behind Denmark in its group.
However, in a match against Denmark on Tuesday, Israel was trounced 5-0, dimming its hopes for its first World Cup qualification since 1970.
“Denmark was better than us by every parameter,” Eran Zahavi told Channel 12 news after the game. “We will have to beat Scotland to get something out of this.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who had previously celebrated the Israeli soccer victories, said it was “not only a tremendous achievement but also one of the greatest games we’ve had.”
While sports and politics are meant to be held separate, in the Middle East they often clash. The Arab-Israeli soccer player Munas Dabbur was booed during Israel’s recent victorious match against the Austrians. Dabbur who scored the second of Israel’s five goals, is one of Israel’s leading soccer players. However, on May 8 during tensions between Arabs and Jews in Israel and Hamas rocket attacks against Israel, Dabbur posted an image of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem with the text, "God will deal with the perpetrators of injustice." This upset many Israeli soccer fans.
Nations hostile toward the Jewish state have often boycotted Israeli athletes at international sports events. During the recent Olympics in Tokyo, the international Judo Federation suspended the Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine after he refused to compete against the Israeli judoka Tohar Butbul.
It will be interesting to see if the Israeli team will be received in Qatar. The Gulf state has close ties with the terrorist organization Hamas and its school curriculum is riddled with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel material, according to a report that analyzed Qatari school materials over the past few years. For instance, Qatari school materials praised Hamas’ rocket terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and the Jewish state was erased from the map.
However, as upcoming host of the world’s largest international soccer event, Qatar will likely have no choice but to accept the Israeli team if it succeeds in qualifying.
Qatar’s regime responded to the historic Arab-Israeli Abraham Accords in 2020 by declaring that it would not establish ties with the Jewish state. Doha later softened its position by stating that the timing was not right for normalization with Israel.
In 2014, Bennett – who at the time was Israel’s economic minister – accused Qatar of financing radical Islamic terrorism in Gaza against Israel.
“If we want this to stop, we have to stop the funding – the biggest funder of radical Islam(ic) terror is Qatar. We have to get Qatar to stop funding Hamas, Al Qaeda, Al Nusra and ISIS with money," Bennett declared.
At the time, Bennett also urged FIFA, the international soccer federation, to cancel plans to allow Qatar to host the World Cup 2022.
"We have to call on FIFA (to) cancel that: don't allow them to hold the World Cup because this is a terror state who's funding most of the world terror. If we stop the money, terror stops and this whole thing stops," Bennett said.
In recent months, the Bennett-led government has demanded that Qatari funds for Gaza be transferred to banks controlled by the Palestinian Authority so they do not reach the Hamas regime in Gaza.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.