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Israel-Hamas war: what we know about the two Israeli footballers worried in Turkey

A textbook case, one more, of the irruption of the Israel-Hamas war in the sporting field. And the special place that football occupies in the media and political arena. Since this Sunday, January 14, two Israeli footballers have been in turmoil in Turkey after paying tribute to the nearly 140 Israeli hostages still held by Hamas, 100 days after the start of the conflict.

These cases, which have inevitably become viral, are still far from over. The Israeli authorities notably promised to intervene to defend the interests of one of the two athletes, excluded from his club.

The Sagiv Yehezkel case is the most notable. This Sunday we play the 68th minute of the match in which Antalyaspor hosts Trabzonspor, a top-of-the-table duel in the Turkish football championship. The locals lost 1-0 when their number 29 placed a perfect header into the opposing goal. Equalizer and immediate joy at Corendon Airlines Park but, further down the pitch, the striker’s celebration turned out to be much more timid. Sagiv Yehezkel walks soberly in front of the cameras and shows off his strapped left wrist.

On his bandage, a message “100 days. 07/10” and a Star of David. Without realizing it, he who says he knows “the context in Turkey”, Yehezkel has just dealt a very serious blow to his career. Everything comes together. Social networks are going crazy. A few hours after the meeting, he was arrested and placed in police custody overnight.

Pushed by its supporters, and a sponsor who threatens to withdraw, the Antalya club chooses to exclude its second top scorer. For which motive ? The Israeli international with 8 selections would have undermined the “values ​​of the country” led by autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan. An initiative that the National Football Federation is quick to validate, while the courts are pursuing him for inciting hatred.

Israel, a “terrorist” state for Erdogan

It is more or less for the same reason that his compatriot Eden Karzev, 23, also finds himself in trouble. He held up a sign on Instagram that read in English: “100 – Take Them Home NOW.” Enough to be the subject of an internal disciplinary investigation by Basaksehir Istanbul, an institution renowned for being very close to the presidency.

Since the start of the conflict, President Erdogan, a traditional ally of the Palestinian cause, has several times described Israel as a “terrorist state”, believing that Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the European Union and several countries including the States -United, was a “group of liberators”.

As a reminder, the Hamas Ministry of Health counts nearly 23,968 deaths in the Gaza Strip, mainly civilians, compared to 1,140 on the Israeli side, again a majority of civilians.

“This affair is fabricated to humiliate Israel”

The Hebrew footballers who play in the Turkish championship can be counted on the fingers of one hand. In any case, neither were known until now for their extra-sporting commitments. On the former’s social networks, no publication paints the portrait of a politicized man, even less of an unwavering supporter of the regime of Benyamin Netanyahu and his far-right allies.

“This affair was fabricated to humiliate Israel, and all this in reaction to a simple humanitarian gesture,” the player’s family told the Ynet media. “I didn’t do anything to provoke anyone. I am not for war. There are Israelis held hostage in Gaza,” the person concerned assured the police, according to a local television channel.

On Monday morning, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called Yehezkhel’s detention “scandalous,” saying Turkey was an arm of Hamas. The international was repatriated to Tel Aviv via a government-chartered plane. The president of the Israeli Football Federation, Shino Zoertz, for his part appealed to Fifa.

A severity that is anything but surprising

This is not the first time that geopolitical tensions linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict spill over onto the ground. In 2017, an Israeli basketball team was banned from playing a European Cup match in Gaziantep, Turkey, near the Syrian border, due to “exceptional” security threats.

In France, too, certain positions taken by athletes on this subject have resulted in sanctions. The contexts are certainly different but we think of the Algerian footballer from OGC Nice Youcef Atal, convicted at first instance for provoking hatred – he appealed – and suspended by the LFP. Or to the former basketball player Émilie Gomis, excluded in recent days from her role as ambassador for the Games.

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