Arab Soccer in Israel

Soccer may contribute to the integration of Arabs as individuals into Israeli society--but it simultaneously blurs their national identity.

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By their massive support for an Arab team who won the Israel National Cup and by their desire to represent Israel on the International level, Arab soccer fans presented the Israeli public with a dramatic proposal. Their consistent endeavors to articulate their success in Israeli, even patriotic terms, undermine the basic assumptions of the hegemonic definition of Israeli identity.

They offer, therefore, an Israeliness that is not necessarily Jewish and has nothing to do with the IDF and the ethos of "security." This Israeliness is bilingual, speaking with Arabic and Hebrew and vibrantly switching between the two. It is secular in its institutional form but tolerant of any religion, and can even tolerate Muslim prayer in the national sphere, like the collective prayer of Sakhnin's Muslim players right after their victory.

It is based on active participation in the Israeli arena and on a dialogue between the various ethnic and religious groups within it. It is competitive and achievement oriented but not predatory and manipulative. As soccer in Israel is a masculine institution that marginalizes women, this "identity proposal" is far from offering a utopian model for equality. But given the road that needs to be traveled in regard to solving this ethnonational and religious conflict, the model presented is a very good start, indeed.

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Tamir Sorek

Tamir Sorek is Assistant Professor of Israel Studies in the Department of Sociology at the University of Florida.