England travel to Tel Aviv Saturday to face Israel for the first time in a competitive match, a Euro 2008 qualifier crucial to both sides’ hopes of advancing. The Guardian’s Seth Friedman wonders of England’s Jewish football constituency, “when it comes to the crunch – assuming a football match is the closest these two allied states will come to war – whose colours will they cheer?”
“I have a passion for both the England and Tottenham teams that I could never have for Israel’s squad,” says Jonny Hadi, 26, a London-born Jew living in Israel. His loyalty to England’s footballers is unswerving, regardless of where he resides. “Even after I’d made aliya [emigrated to Israel], I still went to Euro 2004 with the England fans and had a fantastic time backing the boys.”
He puts his allegiance down to a “gut feeling – it’s nothing against Israel. The fact is, I’m an Englishman living in Israel, and I doubt that I will ever feel differently.” When asked if he thought it strange to have opted to emigrate from England to Israel, yet still support the team of the country he spurned, Hadi disagrees. “If I was an Englishman living in Germany or France, there’s no one who would expect me not to support England.”
Lawrence Peterman, a London stockbroker, believes that his religious beliefs have no bearing on his allegiances in the match. “Yes, I’m Jewish, but I’m not Israeli,” he says, when asked why he’d be supporting England. “I was born here and have spent the past 41 years here, so my affinity will always be to my home country.” Peterman says he is not alone: “All of my Jewish friends will be supporting England,” he says. “While we consider ourselves very Jewish in the traditional sense, it does not translate to our necessarily being very Zionist.”
The distinction is important, especially in the context of the “Tebbit test”, which reared its head once more in the wake of the 7/7 bombings in London. Where do the true loyalties of Britain’s ethnic minorities lie? There is a misconception that ethnic minorities treat Britain as no more than a host nation, where they can reap the benefits of a western lifestyle, yet have no need to show loyalty to the state.
“While I am now an Israeli – and thus supporting Israel’s footballers – I have a lot of love and respect for the UK,” says David Horovitz, editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post. “My father’s family fled Germany in 1937 and found refuge in Britain. My father served in the RAF during the war, and I have overwhelmingly fond memories of my time in England. That said, I will be cheering on Israel with my heart and soul during the match.” To complicate things further, Horovitz sees no inconsistency between supporting Israel against England, and being a lifelong Arsenal fan (as are his two sons).
“If England score, I’ll be cheering – but it’ll be tinged with guilt,” says Jamie Levy, who is flying to Tel Aviv from London for the match yet sitting with the Israel fans at the stadium. “There’s definitely a conflict of interest, since I’ve got a tremendous affinity for Israel, but I’ve supported the England team all my life. There’s no question of switching sides – it’d be as heinous a sin as going from Spurs to Arsenal.”
British born Dan Berelowitz is keen to dispel the notion that Jews – whether English or not – should blindly support Israel out of a sense of loyalty. “I certainly don’t think that all Jews should root for Israel unquestioningly, in the same way I think that believing in anything unquestioningly can lead to dangerous fanaticism,” he says. But his support for Israel isn’t all down to either his work or his religion: “England’s performances irritate me. If England were to come on to the pitch and play with more skill and flair, I would support them all the way”.