Thousands of Israeli soccer fans went to Qatar for the World Cup. But with the competition in its second week, their enthusiasm is increasingly replaced with disappointment. Many of the fans as well as the Israeli journalists sent to Doha to cover the games report that they feel unwelcome.
The fervor in the Arab world is undeniable, with four Arab teams qualifying for the games, held for the first time in an Arab country. With the games so close to home, Arab soccer fans feel like it’s more their event than FIFA’s. Israelis who traveled to Qatar had hoped to be part of this Middle East frenzy and joy. Instead, quite a few have reported unpleasant encounters.
With the 2020 Abraham Accords, the recent improvement of relations with Jordan and Egypt, the rehabilitation of ties with Turkey and the last-minute agreement with Qatar for direct flights between Tel Aviv and Doha, many Israeli fans and journalists had looked forward to their first visit to Qatar, with which Israel has no diplomatic ties.
But with big expectations came big disappointment. If any Israelis thought they'd be leaving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with 55 years of occupation and no end in sight, behind them, they were naive. Several incidents made it clear that fans from Arab countries had a hard time accepting Israelis walking around.
Yedioth Ahronoth reporters Raz Shechnik and Oz Mualem shared what they experienced on Twitter. Shechnik tweeted, “We feel hated, surrounded by hostility, unwanted. How did a Qatari man who seemed nice at first glance respond when he asked and we answered that we’re from Israel? ‘I’d want to tell you welcome, but you’re really not welcome. Get out of here as soon as you can.’”
A video posted by Egyptian journalist Haitham El-Tabei shows a Saudi fan attacking Israeli Kan 11 journalist Moab Vardi, yelling, “No Israel, only Palestine, you’re not welcome here.” Journalist Dor Hoffman shared that he and his TV crew were kicked out far from their destination when their taxi driver found out they were Israelis.
KAN reporter Moav Vardi told Al-Monitor, “I was surprised at the negative responses to us, in their scope as well as the degree of anger and hatred. In almost all the cases, the terminology of the verbal assaults toward us did not talk about the occupation of the 1967 territories, but about the very existence of Israel as a sovereign nation. The common statement of those confronting us was ‘There’s no such thing as Israel. There’s no Israel, there’s only Palestine.’”
Still, not all reactions were negative. Reacting to the video of Vardi being attacked by Qatari fans, Lebanese media personality Maria Maalouf expressed solidarity. Maalouf tweeted, “This is inappropriate behavior! Israel is a nation that is a member of the UN,” and ended with “I’m sorry my friend, you are doing your job. I stand with you.”