The camera moved slowly from player to player. One by one it zoomed in on the same harsh, firm expression. A muscle didn’t move on their faces, their lips were pursed. Ten young men in red and one in pale blue stood shoulder to shoulder and supported each other in their finest hour. It’s hard to know what went through their minds at that moment. It’s even harder to know how this gesture was born: When was it planned, did they all agree on it in advance? Who initiated, who knew, who tried to dissuade them, and was there even one who flinched?
The national anthem of the Islamic Republic of Iran, their country, was played and their lips remained sealed. They were silent as one and their silence roared to the ends of the earth. At the stadium in Doha, a seminal moment was born. A silence that resonated louder than all the noise in the stadiums.
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It’s not clear what will become of them when they return, if they return, to their country. It is doubtful they’ll get to represent it again. The risk they took is huge, as was the global admiration they won. They were also admired in Israel. Israelis know how to appreciate courage, but only of those who resist regimes in other states. What happened in Doha will never happen on Jewish Israel’s team, and not only because Israel isn’t likely to reach the World Cup.
The Israeli team’s Arab players don’t sing the anthem, ostensibly because of a few words that don’t suit them. But the reason is deeper. They too are resisters of the regime, a regime of Jewish supremacy, which sings “the soul of a Jew yearns” in a state inhabited by two nations. The risk they take by not singing the anthem is limited. Nobody will kick them off the team for now, not to mention send them to prison. Nor is it necessary to go into the differences between the regime in Iran and the one in Israel. A totalitarian dictatorship like Iran’s exists only in Israel’s backyard. In Israel’s facade, where the Arab team players also live, there’s a free if not egalitarian regime.
When Bibras Natcho didn’t sing Hatikva, it occurred to none of his Jewish teammates to show solidarity and join his struggle. When Moanes Dabbur cited the Koran in the armed conflict dubbed “Guardian of the Walls” and wrote: “Don’t think Allah is ignoring those committing the iniquities,” he was temporarily suspended from the team, until he quit it for good. Nobody came to his defense. A Jewish team player who identifies with the oppressed minority has yet to be born. The Jewish players on the team, and most of its functionaries and fans, compete with each other to demonstrate the most vociferous, screaming patriotism against our regime’s resisters.
In Iran, the dissidents are heroes. Here, they’re traitors. From Eyal Berkovich to Eran Zehavi comes the threat that there cannot be a captain who doesn’t sing the anthem. If only we had a few more adequate Jewish players, the majority would prefer not only all team members to sing the anthem in unison, but an all-Jewish team, as is worthy of a Jewish state.
Those who admired the event in Doha should also admire Natcho and Dabbur. Those who were impressed by the Iranian players must be honest with themselves and admit that in Jewish Israel, courageous protest doesn’t really exist. Nor does solidarity. There are ayatollahs not only in Iran, and a brutal, oppressive regime is usurping and killing unarmed, innocent protesters not only on Iran’s streets. You don’t need Iranian ayatollahs to rebel, suffice it to live alongside a military tyranny to protest courageously.
In Doha, we learned the power of courage. But in Israel, the problem is worse than lack of courage. Most Jewish football players, like most Israelis, don’t even understand what there is to protest about here. Life is grand and Israel is the only democracy. Is anybody killing demonstrators here? Are you insane? The Arabs should be grateful we let them play at all. Let the Iranians protest – and we’ll cheer them with pride.