Tag Archives: Israeli Sport

Expanding Our Sporting Horizons

Confined to my sickbed this past week and a half, the miserable alternatives offered by HOT (Israeli cable TV) have more or less compelled me to take an interest in professional cycling and to renew a former one in darts.

Watching the Tour de France reach its exhausting conclusion gave me cause to wonder why there has never been an Israeli participant in this, the greatest test of stamina in world sport.

Indeed, it is a question I posed to the kiosk brain trust, on Rothschild Boulevard.

Tour de France 2009 (Stage 8)After all, why shouldn’t the Israeli male, who displays such outstanding determination, resilience and tactical astuteness in his IDF uniform, be able to bring those very same qualities to the hard saddle?

The reply – delivered, of course, by chairman (self-appointed) of the trust, Avi (well known to readers of melchett mike) – was instant.

“That type of professional cycling demands a special type of self-discipline and denial. And it is one that we Israelis simply don’t possess. We are far too sociable, and incapable of such lonely individualism. Your average Israeli might be able to start his Tour training rides at the crack of dawn, but he’ll be off his bike in a flash at the first sight of people drinking coffee, eating croissants and chatting!”

Hankies to the ready . . . but, if Israel has shown us anything, it is that nothing is impossible for “us” anymore. Still, knowing Israelis as I now do, it is hard, for once, to disagree with Avi.

"Jocky Wilson . . . what an athlete." (Sid Waddell)

"Jocky Wilson . . . what an athlete." (Sid Waddell)

Now, I am unashamed to admit that I have always been a big fan of TV darts, especially when accompanied by the quite wonderful commentary of Sid Waddell, a Cambridge University graduate who has shown that you don’t have to be sub-working class to enjoy this most watchable of sports (or games, if you wish to argue the toss). During one particularly tense match, the Geordie proclaimed: “There couldn’t be more excitement in here if Jesus Christ walked in and ordered a cheese sandwich.” Brilliant.

I now started to wonder why no British Jews have ever taken up a career with the arrows. It can be extremely lucrative if you reach the top, you don’t get dirty, and hardly even have to bend down. There are two separate professional world bodies – any self-respecting Diaspora Jew will require one that he doesn’t belong to – and the rule book of neither prohibits consumption of vodka and orange, or even a good pure malt, instead of beer.

But, whilst Jewish guys might be able to handle the dart thrower’s compulsory chains and rings, they would never smoke B&H, Embassy or Rothmans, and would look ridiculous in those “tent” shirts.

Steve "Housewife's Choice" BeatonAnd what about the sobriquets? Amongst world champions, past and present, have been Eric “The Crafty Cockney” Bristow, Steve “Housewife’s Choice” Beaton (right), and Phil “The Power” Taylor.

Who would we have? Neville “The Calculator” Rosenberg? Lionel “Mummy’s Boy” Frankel? Melvyn “The Doormat” Levy? It could just all get very embarrassing.

So, even though I ran it down a little in my last post– as not exactly a competition of sporting giants – perhaps the Maccabiah Games, held “in private” in Israel, is the best sporting option after all for British Jews.

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The Good, the Sad and the Ugly

There have been two stories dominating the news in Israel this past week. While the first demonstrates everything that is good about today’s Jewish State, the second shows it at its most ugly.

18th MaccabiahAnd the good story does not relate to the start of the eighteenth Maccabiah Games. I can’t get too excited about a “Jewish Olympics” . . . which, for me, is about as interesting as an Islamic beer, or Christian Klezmer music, festival.

Indeed, to call the Maccabiah amateurish would be unkind to much non-professional sport. In the men’s 100 metres final (stumbled across whilst channel-hopping), all the sprinters were in their blocks and the starter’s gun raised . . . when this guy appears out of nowhere, unchanged and remonstrating. Not having the heart to send him, un-run, back to Canada (I think that’s where the nincompoop was from), the sprinters were made to get out of their blocks and wait while he changed in front of a ‘live’ national TV audience. The commentator’s observation, that “something like this would never happen at the real Olympics” (in fact, it was pure Hasmonean Sports Day), was more than a little redundant.

Like the role of British polytechnics (now renamed “universities” . . . though everyone knows what you really are) – to enable those who can’t get into a ‘proper’ university to obtain a (worthless) “-ology” – the primary purpose of the Maccabiah is to allow yiddishe mamas whose children could not become doctors, lawyers or accountants, but who had a little sporting ability (a lot for a Jew), to kvell (gush) about something:

“Have you heard?! Darren’s been chosen to represent Great Britain in kalooki!!”

What Mrs. Shepnaches omits to mention is that: kalooki is a card game, Darren is only 37 – and should still be participating in active sports (like lawn bowls) – and he is only going to be representing Great Britain’s 280,000 Hebrews (less than half a percent of its total population).

The Maccabiah is all a bit sad, and perhaps the time has come to question its relevance and its future.

No, the stories that I am referring to are the victory of Israel’s men’s Davis Cup tennis team over the world number ones, Russia, last weekend, and the charedi (ultra-Orthodox) riots in Jerusalem these past few days.

Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich celebrate victory over RussiaFor a sporting “minnow” like Israel – which, less than four years ago, was on the brink of virtual disappearance from the international tennis map – to beat the mighty Russia 4-1 and reach the Davis Cup semi-final (in Spain, in September) is little short of sensational. Indeed, alongside Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team’s five European Cups, it must go down as one of Israel’s greatest sporting achievements (and further poetic justice following Sweden’s spineless capitulation to Islamofascists in the previous round).

More importantly, however, and as opined by David Horovitz in his weekend Jerusalem Post Editor’s Notes (aptly subtitled “Wonderful things can happen when everybody pulls in the same direction”), it demonstrated how – as we have seen in so many of Israel’s “against all odds” military victories – a spirit of unity and solidarity can enable this miraculous little country to far out-punch its weight.

The riots in Jerusalem, conversely, illuminate the ugly side of Israeli Jewish society and a chasm of as much concern, if not more, than that between Jew and Arab. And it is one which serves to further weaken the country in the eyes of its many, queuing, detractors (see, too, Horovitz’s weekend editorial). Thousands of charedim went on the rampage after a woman belonging to a radical anti-Zionist hassidic sect, and believed to be suffering from mental illness, was arrested on suspicion that she had almost starved her three-year old son to death. Tens of police officers were injured in the clashes, with over half a million shekels worth of damage caused to municipal property. The rioters’ leaders remained silent.

Haredi protesters confront policeThese anti-Zionists do not recognise the sovereignty or legitimacy of the secular State of Israel, and – like other, merely non-Zionist, charedim (for a brief background on charedim and Zionism, click here) – pay relatively little or no tax (the vast majority don’t work), and (with a negligible number of exceptions) do not serve in the military. If I were the parent of an IDF combat soldier, I would want to know why my son has to risk – or had to sacrifice – his young life, when charedi boys of the same age get away with sitting in yeshivot (Talmudic seminaries) all day?

And please don’t insult us with the disingenuous nonsense that learning and praying have been as much a part of Israel’s great military victories as the heroism and selflessness of its young soldiers. I had to suffer more than enough of that from the feebleminded Jewish studies ‘teachers’ of my childhood and youth. We saw how much good prayer did us in Auschwitz and Treblinka. In fact, if charedim had (perish the thought) been leading this country at any one of  its many times of existential crisis, we would all now be fish food somewhere at the bottom of the Mediterranean.

I don’t hate charedim. I am from charedi stock, and most ‘connected’ to my Galician and Lithuanian roots. Indeed, should I ever be viewed as truly chiloni – secular, in the rather extreme Israeli definition of the word – I might consider it time to head back to the Diaspora.

I am, however, convinced that charedim have rather lost the plot in modern day Israel. The hassidic choice of clothing, especially, which had some rationale in Eastern Europe, is positive madness in a country with an average summer high (even in Jerusalem) pushing 30°C. No wonder Stuey and Dexxy bark when they walk past! Even the most sacred and entrenched of Jewish traditions – and the wearing of such garb could never be classed as that – have been adapted to the relevant environment and other circumstances.

There are communities of Ger and Belz hassidim living in in a spirit of peaceful coexistence in my Sheinkin area of Tel Aviv, considered the ultimate symbol of modern, chiloni Israel. I was shocked, however, to be told recently by one of their number that that he doesn’t consider chilonim to be Jews.

Devils' embraceAnyway, my suggestion to all of those charedim who don’t like it here in Israel, do not recognise and respect the country’s laws, and/or who oppose the very basis of the State – like the Neturei Karta filth who demonstrate against Israel alongside the most hateful of anti-Semites, attend Holocaust-denial conferences in Tehran (right), and who, on Thursday, paid a visit to Hamas in Gaza – is that they return to live in the shtetls (small towns) of Poland and Eastern Europe. Perhaps life will be better for them there, where they will be more or less self-governing and left to their own devices.

Charedim such as these, living in Israel, are no better than parasites. And to add chutzpah to injury, whilst considering themselves not subject to the law, they – again, like all charedim (about 8% of Israel’s citizens) – try to influence how the rest of us lead our lives.

They can’t, however, have it both ways. If they expect to enjoy the fruits of Israeli citizenship, they must obey and fulfil the same rules and obligations as the rest of us. If they are unwilling to, I am certain that the Poles, etc, will welcome them back with open arms (or, at least, blades).

Sometimes, I think that they deserve each other.

Moti, you ain’t no Motty!

Slimy, spurious psychics (see June’s Mook of the Month) aside, the hotly-contested title of Most Offensive Israeli, contrary to popular belief, does not go to the swindling taxi driver who besmirches all of his fellow countrymen within an hour of tourists landing at Ben Gurion Airport.

And, though I despise them with a passion, neither does it go to the HOT (cable company) customer disservice representative who cuts off callers – I am convinced deliberately – after keeping them on hold for 45 minutes.

Its recipient is not the arrogant American “settler” who should have done us all a favour and stayed, together with his ugly fanaticism, in Teaneck or Borough Park.

Neither is it the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox Jew) who gives little or nothing to the State but still believes that he has the right to dictate to all of us who do how we should live our lives.

And it does not even go to the Neanderthal beach predator in his Speedos (three sizes too small, naturally).

No, the title of Most Offensive Israeli goes to none of the above. And the toughest challenge of Aliyah is not, as is commonly thought, the lower salary, the stifling hot summers, or even the rudeness . . . it is having to suffer the Israeli TV sports commentator.

During Wimbledon fortnight, which ended yesterday, Sport 5 (Israeli cable TV) commentators appeared to feel compelled to employ every nonsensical cultural stereotype about the English . . . but got even those wrong. So, for instance, when Andy Murray’s fourth round match ended at 10:39 p.m. last Monday, we had to endure interminable silly references to the English spectators having to wait for their dinners of “kidney pie” (for those fortunate enough not to know, it is steak and kidney).

And those same commentators were remarkably incapable of distinguishing between spectators’ Englishness, Murray’s Scottishness, and all of their Britishness (for me, after being knocked out, Murray immediately reverted to “miserable Jock”).

Whilst his knowledge and understanding of his subject may be negligible, however, the Israeli sports commentator – like so many of his compatriots – delivers his ignorance with the conviction of the world-renowned authority.

Avi MellerI once, in a Tel Aviv pub, confronted Sport 5′s Avi Meller (right) – a self-proclaimed expert on English football (on the basis that he once, apparently, spent a couple of years in London) – for never mentioning Leeds United’s David Wetherall, then in his mid-twenties, without the epithet “ha’vatik” (the veteran). Meller said he was grateful to be corrected . . . and then continued as before.

Having grown up in a country steeped in sporting tradition (even if a losing one), I won’t deny that there is more than a little snobbery in my disdain for the local sports coverage. But what right do Israeli commentators have to refer to Liverpool footballer Steven Gerrard, as they continually do, as “Stevie Gee”?!

Not for the Israeli sports commentator the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words”, nor the sacred rule – applied by the very best TV journalists and commentators the world over – of “Letting the pictures speak for themselves”. No, he prefers to speak (usually bollocks) for the pictures, with the result that many will only watch them with the sound turned down. Moreover, his predictions – which are, generally, ridiculously reactive to the toings and froings of a particular match – are invariably and uncannily wrong.

Israeli TV’s football studio pundits are even more insufferable than its commentators, the ex-pros having to be suffered most being the Arse’s Arse (Hebrew for medallion man) Itzik Zohar and that most arrogant of gobshites Eyal Berkovic.

Itzik ZoharZohar (left, during one of his eight [including four as substitute] appearances for Crystal Palace) has not let his “glassing”, last year, on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard – which left him requiring 52 stitches to his face – dent his formidable ego (many believe the unknown assailant to have been a vengeful boyfriend or husband).

Neither does Zohar’s ignominious inclusion in Crystal Palace fans’ all-time worst eleven – believe me, he had some competition! – prevent him from pontificating about Champions’ League football. Yes, this is the very same Itzik Zohar to whom Palace fans used to sing: “One Itzik Zohar. There’s only one Itzik Zohar. One Itzik Zohar. One too many.” When Crystal Palace fans sing that – and to one of their own – it is time to consider not only hanging up one’s boots . . . but also why one ever put them on in the first place.

Eyal BerkovicZohar, however,  is a positive breath of fresh air when sitting alongside Berkovic (right), who delights in publicly, spitefully rubbishing Israeli League players purely on the basis that they are not as good as he once was. Many Israelis’ fondest memory, however, of the career of Berkovic – who, as one of the country’s all-time great footballers, should have been a national treasure – is of the time his West Ham teammate John Hartson kicked him in the face during training. That the actions of the yobbish Welshman were understood by many here tells you everything you need to know about this odious little tosser.

Domestic football appeals, almost exclusively, to the lowest common denominator of Israeli society (see my second ever post on melchett mike: Ran Ben Shimon: A Deeper Malaise). And most of my fellow expat Brits regard it in much the same way that the former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly did his city rivals: “If Everton were playing down the bottom of my garden,” he memorably quipped, “I’d draw the curtains.” Rather more intelligent, professional coverage by the Israeli media, however, might change (if slowly) its public perception.

Modi Bar-OnThe glowing exception to the embarrassment that is Israeli television sport is the excellent, charismatic Sport 5 John Motsonpresenter Modi Bar-On (left), who would give even a Des Lynam or an Adrian Chiles a run for their money.

But, oh, what Israel would give for an Alan Hansen or a John Motson (right) . . . though, in these climes, “Motty” might have to do something about that sheepskin coat!

Sticking it up the Swedes: a Sporting Purim Shpiel

Alfred Nobel! Greta Garbo! Ingrid Bergman! Ingmar Bergman! Britt Ekland! ABBA! Björn Borg! Sven-Göran Eriksson! Ulrika Jonsson! Can you hear me (if you are not under Sven), Ulrika Jonsson?! Your boys took one hell of a beating! Your boys took one hell of a beating!!

Okay, it was a Norwegian, not a Swedish, commentator who came up with a similar commentary – when his country’s footballers defeated England in a World Cup qualifier, in 1981 – but you get the idea.

And Israel’s 3-2 Davis Cup tennis victory, this weekend, over Sweden – the seven-time winners, who produced, in Borg, arguably the greatest player of all time – was no less of a giant-killing. Israel is now in the quarter-finals – where it will face Russia, in July (in Israel) – for only the second time in its history (the first was in 1987).

And the embarrassing home defeat was no more than the Swedes deserve, for their shameless decision to bow to domestic Islamofascist pressure to stage the tie behind closed doors (although, seeing as Sweden is always amongst the highest-placed developed countries in the international suicide rankings, it is perhaps no surprise that so many fundamentalist Muslims – known to be rather partial to the practice – have decided to settle there).

Just a few days after the attack on Sri Lanka’s cricketers in Lahore, by Pakistani Islamofascists, it was the perfect time to reaffirm the importance of sport in bringing people together. The significance, however, was sadly lost on the predictably unimaginative Swedes.

As a result of the Swedish spinelessness, I had considered issuing a melchett mike fatwa on all Jews who purchase “Volvoys” – what they call Volvos in Golders Green and Stamford Hill – but resolved that it would serve no useful purpose, because the company is now owned by Ford.

Boycotting IKEA would be far preferable, as the furniture retailer is far more accessible to the average Israeli than a Volvo – the store near Netanya, in spite of being amongst the most expensive in the world, appears to do a thriving trade – and because I have always hated the f*cking place, its labyrinths representing the ultimate shopping hell.

IKEA Israel Complaints

What I am only prepared to do for world understanding

What I would only do for Israeli- Swedish relations

I would, however, be prepared to reconsider my call for a boycott if Ulrika (right) were to visit Tel Aviv, and ‘thrash things out’ with me in a spirit of mutual giving and openness. Purely in the interests of improving relations between our nations, you understand . . .

Anyway, a very happy Purim to Israel’s tennis heroes, Dudi Sela, Harel Levy, Andy Ram and Amir Hadad – our modern, sporting Mordechais – for sticking it up the anti-Semitic (let’s face it, that is what it boils down to) Swedes.