Israel Update – Week of November 27, 2022
The World Cup: In the United States, the 2022 holiday season officially began on Thanksgiving, November 23. Holiday season began in Israel three days earlier, on November 20, when Ecuador beat Qatar, 2-0, in the first game of the 2022 World Cup, or as it is known in most of the world outside of the U.S., the “Mondial.” The World Cup is the ultimate soccer (or “football”, as it is known in most of the world outside of the United States) competition. Thirty-two of the best national teams from around the globe compete for nearly a month to determine which country will be crowned “Best in the World.” The World Cup is held every four years, each time in a different host country. This year, Qatar is hosting the games. The World Cup is typically played in the summer, when most leagues are on vacation, but as Qatar is located in the Persian Gulf with summer temperatures above 110 degrees, the World Cup is being played this year in the late fall, when Qatari temperatures drop down to a nippy 80 degrees.
Israelis are completely immersed in the World Cup. The country has been experiencing a sort of holiday atmosphere. Many Israelis religiously watch the matches. Because Qatar is only one hour ahead of Israel, the matches are played at a “normal” time – late afternoon and evening. Most places of work have televisions running in public areas broadcasting the games. People who don’t have access to workplace televisions are glued to their smartphones – the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) has an absolutely fantastic Word Cup app.
One of the conditions for hosting the World Cup is that the matches must be open to all spectators, regardless of their country of origin. Israel and Qatar do not maintain diplomatic relations. Qatar is very supportive of the Palestinians, particularly those in Gaza. The Al Jazeera global news network, based on Qatar, is often used as a mouthpiece to bash Israel. Until “Operation Guardians of the Wall” in May 2021, Qatari diplomats delivered millions of dollars in cash by carrying suitcases through Israel’s Erez border crossing into Gaza. Qatar still provides much of the funds that support the Gazan Hamas regime, considered by both the U.S. and Israel as a terrorist. Nevertheless, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has permitted Israelis to visit Qatar for the next month if and only if they travel for the purpose of attending World Cup soccer matches. Nearly 4,000 Israelis are attending the games on an Israeli passport and many more are traveling to Qatar on a second passport. Airline routes were created in support. On November 20, TUS Airways, a Cypriot airline, flew the first ever nonstop flight between Tel Aviv and Doha, the capitol of Qatar. Originally it was expected that flights would have to touch down in Cyprus to avoid flying a prohibited route directly to Qatar. But ten days before the tournament kicked off, a deal was brokered that allowed flights to fly directly to Doha from Tel Aviv for the duration of the World Cup.
Are we witnessing a fundamental change in Israeli-Qatari relations?
Will the two countries soon bury the proverbial hatchet? Will Israeli tourists flood Qatar the same way they are flooding Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates? The parallels between Qatar and the UAE are manifold: Both countries are strong American allies, both are technologically advanced, and almost 90% of the population of both countries are expatriates.
And yet, surprisingly, Israelis have received a very cold welcome in Qatar. An article recently appeared in the Jerusalem Post titled “Israelis shunned at Qatar World Cup: ‘You are not welcome.'” According to the article, “Multiple Israelis have claimed to have been met by an atmosphere of hostility and hatred at the World Cup in Qatar, with fans refusing to speak to Israeli journalists, waving Palestinian flags in the background of their videos and yelling at them.” Videos of these interchanges have gone viral. A recurring theme is Israelis being interviewed by the local media and when it becomes clear that the Israelis are, well, Israelis, the interview is abruptly stopped. Eli Ohana, a former Israeli soccer star, was driving in a taxi cab and chatting with his driver, and when the driver suspected that Ohana was Israeli, Ohana told him that he was Portuguese. “Good”, said his driver, “Otherwise I would have thrown you out of the car.” An article in CNN writes, “Israeli journalists experience chilly reception at Qatar World Cup.” The article quotes the chief international correspondent of IBA as suggesting that Qatari resentment might stem from their support of the Palestinians, but it cuts much deeper: “The impression he has gotten is that the ‘hatred and resentment’ is not just about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Rather ‘it’s about the very existence of Israel.’”
Israeli soccer fans should not have been surprised. It is an understatement to say that Israel is not loved in the Arab world. In most Arab countries, Israel has been denigrated on a national scale since her inception. Old habits are hard to change. This much is true: Peace is made not because two countries suddenly fall in love with Israel but because they begrudgingly admit that they are better off as allies and not as enemies. Time and time again, Israel tried to seduce her Arab neighbors into laying down their weapons by offering to trade land for peace. Time and time again, Israeli overtures were rebuffed as being insufficient. Time and time again, peace talks fail.
Over the past two decades, Israel has spent less time trying to woo her neighbors and more time building her muscle. Israel has bloomed into the “Startup Nation.” Through breakthroughs in desalination, she has become self-sufficient in fresh water. She has discovered vast quantities of natural gas under the Mediterranean Sea. And she is the only country in the Middle East with an army that can challenge Iran for Middle eastern hegemony. Israel’s economic, scientific and military prowess have not gone unnoticed. Two years ago, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Israel ended more than seventy years of belligerence by signing the Abraham Accords.
Years of conflict have come to an end – not because of Israeli weakness but because of her strength.
Wishing you a quiet week,