It’s been a crazy week for the Israel national football team and its Arab-Israeli player Moanes Dabbur. Israel has won matches against teams from Faroe Islands and Austria – 4-0 and 5-2, respectively – with Dabbur scoring a goal in each. But after coach Willy Ruttensteiner asked Dabbur not to play against Denmark, Israel lost with an embarrassing 0-5.
Feelings are mixed among fans and players. Dabbur had only recently returned to play and in the home game against Austria on September 4 he was subjected to boos and insults not from the opposing side but from the Israeli supporters.
Dabbur had been asked to play for the Israeli team in matches against the Faroe Islands, Austria and Denmark for the first time since the Instagram affair in May. During the riots that erupted in the mixed towns of Israel and in Jerusalem, as the Israel Defense Forces conducted their Gaza Wall Guards operation, Dabour posted an image of Al-Aqsa with a Quranic verse: “Do not think that God will ignore the deeds of wicked men. It will only delay their judgment until the day when the gaze will freeze.
The post went viral and upset Israeli sports fans and others who viewed the post as an attack on the State of Israel and Israeli Jews. Israel’s national soccer team rushed to censor the footballer and issued a notice saying it expects all of its athletes to speak in a way that contributes to unity, reconciliation and quiet. Without mentioning Dabbur by name, the association called on its players to remember that they represent Israel and warned that disrespectful behavior could result in disciplinary action.
Dabbur has not been sanctioned officially, but was ruled out of friendlies with Montenegro and Portugal last June. Ruttensteiner explained that it was a decision made between him and the player, as they both understood that under the circumstances, Dabbur would not be able to contribute positively to the team.
This was not the first post by an Arab-Israeli player on social media to raise an outcry among Jews in Israel. In 2018, after a 7-0 victory over Guatemala, Beram Kayal posted a picture on instagram Arab-Israeli national team players with the caption ‘We are the biggest in the village/bosses’. The post was later edited.
Kayal was paying tribute to the players who were responsible for five of the team’s seven goals during the game. Arab-Israelis know the Arabic poem “The tallest in the village”. Obviously, many other Israelis are not. Thus, many people interpreted the quote as Kayal saying that the Arab players were the “bosses” of the best team, displaying vitriolic reactions. The incident was an example of the delicate relationship between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel and the inability of segments of Jewish society to accept Arabs in influential positions.
On the eve of the September 4 match against Austria, far-right Knesset member Itamar bin Gvir called on the public to boo the Arab player. “I call on all fans of the Israeli national team, and all other supporters, to boo player Moanes Dabbur, who should play in the Syrian team. The rowdiness began as players entered the field as their names were read. When Dabbur’s name was called, some fans responded with whistles and boos that erupted again each time Dabbur touched the ball. Even when Dabour scored a goal for the team, kissed the grass and waved his hands as his team members cheered, some of the Israeli fans in the stands continued to boo him.
Dabbur’s brother, Farnas Dabour, told Sport 5 TV on this Dabour “didn’t mean to hurt anyone” with his May message. Football fan Ahmad Awesa from the Arab-Israeli city of Baqa al-Gharbiyye told Al-Monitor: “The verbal attacks against Dabbur were harsh and his response to the attackers was to score a goal. Dabbur only quoted a verse from the Quran, nothing more, yet he was attacked by politicians and the media. He was targeted on social media by Jewish gamers during times of military operations and Arab-Jewish tensions, but he’s never been treated like this before.
Many Jewish soccer fans have spoken out against the boos. One of them, Gilad Bussi, told Al-Monitor: “In my opinion, booing Moanes was not justified. When a player wears the uniform, he represents Israel, and anyone in the audience who boos him shows that he does not support the team. Personally, I am very happy that he scored this goal.