A new Israeli soccer star is on the rise.
Tomer Hemed turned Israel’s recent World Cup qualifying games against Luxembourg into his own personal coming out party. The 25-year-old striker scored a hat trick in Israel’s 6-0 win in Luxembourg City last Friday, and then followed it up with two more goals in a 3-0 win on Tuesday at Ramat Gan Stadium. The lopsided wins allowed Israel to move into a second-place tie with Portugal in the six-team qualifying group, with Israel having the edge on goal differential.
Of course, if it were just a matter of whipping up on one of Europe’s soccer minnows - Luxembourg is the lowest seed in Israel’s group, and the fourth-lowest seed in Europe - then Hemed’s heroics wouldn’t mean all that much. As it happens, however, the Haifa native’s star turn comes in the midst of a breakout season in Spain, where Hemed is in his second season with Mallorca.
With a population of just over 23,000, the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona doesn’t often get a chance to stand out on the map of Israel. On Thursday, however, the city’s Israeli Premier League soccer club took a big step towards putting its hometown on the map in Europe.
This past spring, Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona, won the league title, marking the first time in nearly three decades that Israel’s champion didn’t come from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Haifa.
After a long bid towards qualifying for the UEFA Champions League group stage fell just short this summer, Kiryat Shmona opened play Thursday in the second-tier UEFA Europa League, playing to a 1-1 away draw with Spanish club Athletic Bilboa.
Kiryat Shmona is one of two Israeli clubs in the Europa League group stage, joined by Hapoel Tel Aviv. Hapoel, known as “The Workers,” opened up Europa League play at home on Thursday against the defending champions, Atlético Madrid, dropping a 3-0 decision at Bloomfield Stadium.
Despite the mixed results, one can argue that competing in Europe in and of itself represents a win.
In the shadow of the Euro 2012 soccer championship, a smaller yet more intellectually profound sports event, took place last week in Haifa.
Israel hosted the so-called Authors’ Euro, an international tournament of national soccer teams consisting of writers and poets. For three days, German, Italian and Israeli authors battled for the cup. In between, they shared stories, participated in readings and panel discussions (and, of course, guzzled beer) while watching television as their “real” national teams fought for their own trophies.
The European Writers’ League has been in existence for about a decade. Teams of scribes from different countries started meeting and playing each other in the hope of fostering cultural exchange, increasing literary awareness and, of course, fulfilling lost childhood dreams of becoming soccer stars.
The Israeli team was founded by yours truly in 2008, following an invitation by the German team to play in Berlin. The response to my call was impressive. Among those traveling to Berlin in May of that year were striker Nir Baram (whose novel “Fine People” in English translation is due from Knopf next year); winger Avi Shilon (whose biography of Menachem Begin will be published this fall by Yale University Press); successful pop musician and novelist Yali Sobolin in midfield; and the author of “Almost Dead” (HarperCollins, 2010) — that’s me — in defense.
We were badly beaten there, but the event (hosted by the German Foreign Minister) was so successful, that as soon as we returned to Israel, we started plotting the replay. That December we invited the German and the English writers’ teams to a tournament in sunny Tel Aviv, in which we beat both teams and won the cup. A year later we travelled to London and were badly beaten again, in the pouring rain.
As many had feared, racism has reared its ugly head at Euro 2012. Italian football star Mario Balotelli was subjected to non-stop verbal abuse during the Italy-Spain match earlier this week at the Arena Gdansk in Poland.
The Mirror reported that 300 Spanish fans made monkey chants at Balotelli, and that the stewards (ushers) thought this was “funny.” A sports photographer who was on the scene said, “I was sat behind the goal with all the Spanish fans behind me and they were involved in monkey chanting and laughter and mockery whenever Balotelli was on the ball.”
In an educational effort to combat the troublesome phenomenon of anti-Semitism and racism in soccer, England’s national football team will visit Auschwitz and other Holocaust-related sites while in Poland next week for the Euro 2012 tournament.
According to the Algemeiner, the team will visit Auschwitz some time between its arrival in Poland on June 6 and its first game (against France) on June 9. The players are expected to light candles along the train tracks leading to the camp, and to sign the guest book there.
Soccer hooligans called Israeli soccer player Itay Shechter a “dirty Jew” and made the Nazi salute at him during a training session for the Kaiserslautern team in southwest Germany on Sunday, prompting an outcry in the German media against anti-Semitism in German football.
Although DFB, Germany’s national football association, condemned the incident and said it does not tolerate any kind of racism in the sport, it was reported that police and security personnel are reluctant to eject people making anti-Semitic remarks from the stadium. The media criticized the police’s inaction as part of a “deescalation” strategy, and journalist Alex Feuerherdt, who covers anti-Semitism in German soccer said it was “completely inexplicable that the police did not intervene” the minute the hooligans began calling Shechter a “dirty Jew.”
Stanford’s women’s soccer team won its first NCAA championship on Sunday, and senior Camille Levin was instrumental in making it happen. “Levin had one of the strongest games of her career and was arguably the best player on the field today for either side,” wrote Joseph Beyda in the New York Times.
The 1-0 win over Duke was an emotional moment for the Stanford squad, which had reached the Final Four for four years straight, but had never before come home with the College Cup.
The Jewish Chronicle in the UK reports that an Arsenal football (that’s soccer to us Americans) team fan website is kicking up an anti-Semitic controversy. The fan forum, called We Are The Herd, is posting Stars of David next to the names of site members who have paid the least in the ways of membership dues and donations.
We Are The Herd claims to be an alternative fan organization that eschews what it reportedly views as the overly politically correct atmosphere that football officials are trying to create around the sport. Football has been notoriously connected to racism and anti-Semitism, especially among the fans in the stands.
The British Jewish community’s Community Security Trust, which fights bigotry, anti-Semitism and terrorism, issued a statement condemning this activity. A spokesman was quoted as saying, “This kind of casual and pervasive anti-Semitism is quite disgusting. Arsenal fans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, must intervene to stop this kind of nonsense.”
Palestine scored its first ever goal in a home World Cup qualifier on July 3. And it was better than Beckham.
At Al Ram on the West Bank, Palestine drew 1-1 with nomadic Afghanistan which, when combined with the 2-0 win over the Afghanis in the first match (played in Tajikistan), put the Palestinian team through to the next round of the Asian preliminary qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Watch Hussam Wadi’s Historic Goal:
School’s out here in Israel, and today some 60 sports coaches arrived in Netanya from the UK and Germany to prepare for a most remarkable summer camp. They are partnering with 100 local coaches to help 1,500 youngsters with their soccer skills. The youngsters — Jews and Arabs, boys and girls — will train and play together for most of next week, building up to a final tournament.
Some 40 communities and regional councils will participate in the camp. Jewish and Arab communities are partnered and the participants are divided into small mixed groups. Part of the time is spent in a Jewish community and part in an Arab one, all participants meet at the final festival, next Thursday. Teams will be judged on fair play, not just results.
The program is called Football 4 Peace, and the message inculcated in all participants is that just as they can play together, they can live together. But it goes deeper than that. It’s also about Jews and Arabs on teams together learning that between them anything is possible. “Players that trust one another play well together,” says Football 4 Peace’s statement of values. “Learning to have faith in the capacities of others to carry out their roles and responsibilities dutifully and mutually, in ways that also contribute to the well being of team-mates, is an essential ingredient of good sportsmanship.”
In the delicate Middle East, leaders are constantly watching their backs. But not quite enough, so it seems. Of all the hazards facing Ismail Haniyeh — Palestinian Prime Minister, according to his organization Hamas, a pretender to the throne, according to Fatah, and a terrorist, according to Israel — who would have thought that the real danger looms on the soccer field?
Haniyeh, a prolific footballer when he’s not inciting hatred against Israel, was reportedly injured on the soccer field earlier today. He will be on the sidelines for ten days, under doctor’s orders to rest.
This part of the world is a breeding ground for conspiracy theories. Who can forget the South Sinai governor, Mohamed Abdul Fadil Shousha, who was reported in December to have suggested that Mossad was behind a string of shark attacks in the Red Sea? How long before it’s claimed that Israel made the grass on the soccer pitch wonky, or untied Haniyeh’s shoelaces to make him wobbly on his feet?
A group of England’s top athletes has teamed up to fight a popular anti-Jewish chant used at soccer games.
In a new online video, a multi-racial cast of stars has come out against “the Y-word” — Yiddo, or Yid — an anti-Semitic slur used against supporters of the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, whose fan base is disproportionately Jewish. Although the term has been adopted affectionately by some of the team’s supporters, the video reminds them of its hateful origins. “The Y-word is just as bad, and just as offensive, as the N-word or the P-word,” the clip notes, referring in the latter case to an epithet used against players of Pakistani origin. The video goes on to show how quickly the casual use of a slur can morph into something more threatening, featuring footage of soccer fans shouting about Tottenham supporters “on their way to Auschwitz.”
The video’s backers include Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard and Tottenham defender Ledley King. It is being promoted by the Kick It Out Campaign, an organization devoted to eliminating racism and homophobia from soccer.
Fatally injured in a motorcycle crash on December 20, Avi Cohen, arguably Israel’s greatest ever soccer player, died on December 28, aged 54.
The first Israeli to play in England, Cohen moved to Liverpool in 1979 when they were Europe’s premier team. Although he never established himself in the first team he was famous for being chosen for the game against Southampton on September 20, 1980 — Yom Kippur. To the anger of the Israeli press and the mixed but general disappointment of soccer-supporting British Jews he took the opposite route from American baseball legends Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax and decided to play.
This Yom Kippur game always overshadowed what was a trailblazing but ultimately unspectacular career. He was personally dependable without standing out and, as a defender, his job was accomplished without making a splash. Coming before soccer players commanded vast salaries and also before Israel’s national team was strong enough to compete on a world level, Cohen ended his career with neither fortune nor glory. His ability is evidenced by a cluster of medals that his teams won, even when supporters might struggle to remember his involvement.
Here in North America, sports franchises use the most obvious cover art for their game day programs. New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter fist-pumping after a playoff victory. Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson doused in champagne.
Surely things are the same over in the UK, but last week Scottish soccer club Airdire United attempted something a little more historical with its program in honor of Remembrance Day. The commemoration backfired. Airdire officials thought last Saturday’s program portrayed jubilant Australian troops returning by train from a World War Two battlefield. Instead, the photo features German soldiers – ahem, Nazis.
Are Italian police banning shirts and flags displaying the Star of David at a European soccer championship match to be held this week?
Both the London Jewish Chronicle and Haaretz reported over the weekend that a warning to fans appeared on the website of the Tottenham Hotspur team. The London club is about to face off against Inter Milan on October 20 in a European championship match, and the website warned that “police authorities have advised that those flags showing the Star of David will not be allowed access and may be confiscated.”
But the Italian authorities reacted quickly in denying the reports. Via Milanese local politician Emanuele Fiano, the police denied issuing such a specific instruction. “The Milan prefect, Gian Valerio Lombardi, with whom I have spoken, has denied that any Italian police authority has made any stipulation against banners bearing the Star of David,” Fiano said.
As Jordan Farmer plays a steady back-up role for the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals and Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Braun and Ian Kinsler all rank in the top five in MLB All-Star voting at their respective positions – Braun, a Milwaukee Brewer, leads all National League outfielders – three other Jewish American athletes will be gunning for sports glory in the coming weeks.
As members of the U.S. national soccer team, Jonathan Bornstein and Benny Feilhaber, who both grew up in Southern California, and Chicago’s Jonathan Spector will be lacing up their cleats to play in the 2010 World Cup, set to kick off in South Africa on June 11. (The U.S. plays its first match against England on June 12.) All three shouldn’t have any trouble in the global limelight. Bornstein, a defender, and Feilhaber, a midfielder born in Brazil, who roomed together at UCLA, have played on the national team since 2007 and won silver at the 2005 Maccabiah Games in Israel. In addition to youth national teams, Spector, a defender, has played for Premier League powerhouse West Ham United and was signed by Manchester United — he never ended up playing for them — when he was 17.
Ten of the world’s wealthiest people are Israeli, according to this year’s Forbes’ Rich List. The ten billionaires join the company of the prince of Saudia Arabia, Itlay’s Prime Minister, Oprah and Mark Zuckerberg, and about 1,000 other people around the globe who have 10 digits in the bank. (Yeah you heard us right.)
Here’s the countdown:
1) Sammy Ofer, who’s nearly 90, is Israel’s richest man (even though he lives in Monte Carlo) with $4 billion. If you’ve ever sailed Royal Caribbean cruise line: say thank you. He owns it.