«NO. 290 CONSTRUCTING NATIONAL IDENTITY: THE MUSCULAR JEW VS THE PALESTINIAN UNDERDOG JAMES M. DORSEY S. RAJARATNAM SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES ...»
Reza Shah Pahlavi, who captained his team at his Swiss boarding school and played for the squad of the Iranian military’s Officer School, saw soccer as a way “to create a modern Iranian man who understood the values of hygiene, manly competition, and cooperation.”16 To the Young Turks, soccer was a means of garnering support as they sought to convert the remnants of the Ottoman Empire into a modern state. Both recognised what the French Iranian soccer scholar Christian Bromberger identified as the westernising virtues of the sport: “Football values team work, solidarity, division of labour and collective planning — very much in the image of the industrial 17 world that produced it.” German and Swedish athletics was to the Turks like Cooper’s Commonwealth competition was to the Zionists. It furthered what social anthropologist Paul Connerton described as the creation of collective memory and shared identity through ritualised physical activity.18 Soccer was uniquely designed for that purpose — as historian Eric Hobsbawm noted, “the imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people.”19 For the Palestinians, in contrast to other national groupings in the Middle East and North Africa, forming a national identity initially constituted nation formation through differentiation of the Palestinian identity from a Syrian dominated pan-Arab identity, as stated by political scientist Paul James.
Moreover, both in nation formation and nation building, imagined national communities need to give 14 Herodotus, An Account of Egypt, Translated by G. C. Macaulay, Project Guttenberg, 2006, accessed July 10, 20111, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2131/2131-h/2131-h.htm 15 Alaa al Aswany, Egypt’s Enduring Passion for Soccer, The New York Times, April 16, 2014 (accessed April 16, 2014), http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/17/opinion/egypts-enduring-passion-for-soccer.html?_r=0 16 Franklin Foer. “How Soccer Explains the World,” (New York: HarperCollins, (2006), 217 17 Christian Bromberger, “Football as world-view and as ritual,” French Cultural Studies, 6 (1995), 293-311 18 Paul Connerton, “How societies remember, “(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 4 19 Eric Hobsbawm, “Nations and nationalism since 1780: Programme, myth, reality,” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 143 20
Harry Mylonas, “The Politics of Nation-Building: Making Co-Nationals, Refugees, and Minorities. “(New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2012) 21 Paul James,. “Nation Formation: Toward a Theory of
Community,” (London: Sage Publications, 1996), 45 3 substance to their constructs by creating a consciousness of what it meant to be a nation. For Israeli 22 Jews and Palestinians, sports served that purpose.
Nonetheless, the effort of multi-ethnic, multi-confessional Middle Eastern and North African societies to employ soccer in the shaping of an overriding national identity was complicated by the communal aspirations of minority communities such as Kurds, Berbers and Israeli Palestinians, as well as conflict that resulted from their assertion. These communities felt discriminated against because the newly established states were preoccupied with creating one imaginary overall national identity that superseded diverse societal fabric rather than one that sought multicultural accommodation of the 23 identities of its various constituent communities. Those communities often saw soccer as much as a way of expressing an identity of their own as they viewed it as tool to shape the new state’s national distinctiveness. Bairner and historian John Sugden noted that “wherever there are national or regional conflicts between societies which share a passion for sports, those conflicts will be in and carried on through respecting sport cultures.”24 Israeli sports historian Tamer Sorek argues that Palestinian citizens of Israel as opposed to Palestinians governed by Israeli occupation constituted at least for a significant period of postindependence Israeli history an exception to Sugden and Bairner’s notion. “Under certain conditions, sports may function in the opposite way. The particular case of Palestinian citizens of Israel is evidence that sports in general, and soccer in particular, may be used by the state as a tool to inhibit the nationalist consciousness of a national minority. The Palestinian citizens in turn tend to use soccer to smooth their tense relations with the Jewish majority rather than to emphasize the tension, and therefore they hide their Palestinian identity in the stadium,” Sorek reasoned. 25 In effect, Sorek was highlighting the fact that post-1948 citizenship of the State of Israel did not amount to nationality for non-Jewish citizens i.e. the Palestinians. That dichotomy was reinforced by continued Israeli-Palestinian tensions, including military conflict in Gaza, Israeli-Palestinian frustration with lack of progress in peace talks, anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab bigotry on the soccer pitch.
Nevertheless, Palestinian players contribute significantly to Israel’s national and top echelon teams despite their deep-seated sense of discrimination.26 This has meant that soccer serves Palestinians in Israel both as an integrative tool and a vehicle to assert their identity within the Jewish state.27 Rifaat ‘Jimmy’ Turk, Israel’s first Palestinian national team player, recalls coach Ze’ev Segal telling him when he joined Hapoel Tel Aviv: “There is one important rule. We live in a racist country. They will 22 Ibid. James 23 Ibid. Anderson 24 John Sugden and Alan Bairner, “Sport, Sectarianism and Society,” (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1993), 129 25 Tamer Sorek, ‘Palestinian nationalism has left the field: A shortened history of Arab soccer in Israel,’ International Journal of Middle East Studies, 35:3 (2003), 417-437 26 James M. Dorsey, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, (London/New York: Hurst/Oxford University Press, 2015(, forthcoming 27 Ibid. Dorsey 4 curse you, they will curse your mother and your sister. They will spit at you. They will try to undercut you, cut your legs from under you. You have to be smart about it and know how to deal with it. You can’t allow yourself to be provoked. You have to stay focused. If you are smart, you’ll survive. If you’re not smart, you can take everything I told you and throw it out the window.”28
Moulding Modern Citizens
For pre- Zionist Palestine, Iran and Turkey, sports was key to moulding of the “modern” citizen as well as the forging of relations with a colonial or Western power. This could help them in their endeavour irrespective of the fact that Jews and Palestinians were forming nations while Turkey and Iran were building nations as illustrated in this section. In doing so, they built on the experience of the first modern day international sports encounter — a cricket match in 1860 between the United States, a former British colony, and Canadian colonies that had yet to achieve independence. 29 They also relied on the notion, first put forward in 1891 by Reverend J. Astley Cooper, of a British Commonwealth sporting competition that would involve literary and military events as a way of strengthening ties 30 between Britain and its colonies.
Zionism’s view of sports, much like that of the Shah of Iran as well as the Young Turks and their Kemalist successors, was partly anchored in the need to prepare young men for military service and defence of the nation. It was similarly rooted although not acknowledged in 19th century German approaches to athletics articulated by Theodore Herzl, physician and the father of political Zionism, and social critic Max Nordau’s concept of muscular Judaism. It also harked back to the principle in Deuteronomy 4:9 of shimrat ha-guf, guard the body.
“I must train the boys to become soldiers…. I shall educate one and all to be free, strong men, ready to serve as volunteers in the case of need,” Herzl wrote in his diaries.31 Speaking to the Second Zionist Congress in Basel, Nordau urged his audience to “let us continue our ancient tradition of being heroes with deep chests, nimble limbs and fearless looks.” Russian physician Max (Emmanuel) Mandelstamm made a similar appeal at the congress, where he concluded by repeating a line from Roman poet Juvenal’s Satire X:32 “Men sana in corpore sano (A sound mind in a sound body).”33 28 Interview with the author March 1, 2013 29 The New York Times. International Cricket Match.; United States vs. Canada, September 1, 1860 (accessed July 29, 2010) http://www.nytimes.com/1860/09/01/news/international-cricket-match-united-states-vscanada.html 30 J. Astley Cooper, “1908 Olympic Games, What has been done and what remains to be done The History of Sport in Britain, 1880-1914, ed. Martin Poley (London: Routledge, 2004), 147-157 31 Theodore Herzl, The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, Vol. 1 (New York: Herzl Press and Thomas Yoseloff, 1960), 51 32 R. D. Hick (Ed),Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925) 33 George Eisen, “Jewish History and the Ideology of Modern Sport: Approaches and Interpretations,” Journal of Sport History, 25:3 (1998), 531 5 Nordau argued that Zionism would revitalise Judaism, liberate it from the distress it encountered in the diaspora, and create the new Jew “morally through the rejuvenation of the ideals of the people and bodily through the physical rearing of one’s offspring, in order to create a lost muscular Jewry… We want to restore to the flabby Jewish body its lost tone. Jews have to show to themselves, and to the 34 world, how much vitality they still possess.” Literature scholar Marilyn Reizbaum described Nordau’s image of the new Jew as “derived from the image of manliness and restraint which together make the civilised man. This image is ironically modelled on the Aryan ideal…”35 Political scientist Haggai Harif went a step further in describing the emphasis on the “physical ability of the ‘New Jew’ who symbolized the ideal of national revival in the eyes of the fathers of Zionism” as a core element in “a revolution in the existential reality of the Jewish people in the Diaspora, in defining its collective identity and in its ways of life... Gymnastics and sport were among the offshoots of renewed life in the country and were an expression of the glorification of the physical heroism that was perceived as vital in the battle to conquer the Land” of Israel.36 Zionism’s embrace of the importance of sports was also rooted in moves by significant segments of th 19 century Jewish diaspora to accommodate societal change, counter anti-Semitism, and by implication reject Orthodox Jewish repudiation of sports as a form of secularism. From the midnineteenth century, many Jews viewed joining the main gymnastic movements and, more importantly, sport and country clubs and the Olympic movement as part of their ‘emancipation’ from the old legal and social exclusions and from a “Jewish pathology”. Jews were described as intellectuals, cosmopolitans, and therefore artificially removed from nature. Responding to the charge of physical inadequacy, participating in gymnastic and sports movements was just another facet of claiming equality and, simultaneously, manifesting patriotism.
Movements such as the Deutsche Turnerschaft, the Sokol, English Muscular Christianity, and of course the Olympic Games were as much a product of the 19th century as was the emancipation of Jews. In many societies, Jews considered the two as part and parcel — if Jews could join this fraternity of athletes, it would prove they were being accepted by the larger society. Zionist preoccupation with the body, exercise, and later the Jewish Olympic idea (Maccabiah Games) was a direct consequence of industrialisation, urbanisation and anti-Semitic pressures, wrote Sports historian George Eisen.37 Eisen was referring to the Maccabiah — a sporting event for Jews from across the globe — first organised in Palestine in the early 1930s and which today is recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Historian David Biale argued that “like other nationalist movements of the nineteenth century, Zionism was preoccupied by the physical and emotional 38 degeneration of the nation and by the threat of demographic decline.” As a result, Jewish 34 Max Nordau, “Stenographisches Protokoll der Verhandlungen des II. Zionisten-Congresses (Basel, August 28– 31, 1898), (Vienna: Verlag des Vereines Erez Israel), 14-27 35 Marilyn Reizbaum,Max Nordau and the Generation of Jewish Muscle, Jewish Culture and History, 6:1 (2003), 130-151 36 Haggai Harif, “Israeli Sport in the Transition from a Mandatory Community to a Sovereign State: Trends of Continuity and Change, Israel Affairs,13:3”(2007), 529-553 37 Ibid. Eisen, Jewish History and the Ideology of Modern Sport 38 David Biale, “Zionism as an Erotic Revolution” in People of the Body, Jews and Judaism from an 6 immigrants imported soccer to Palestine under Ottoman rule. The game was institutionalised through public schools and clubs in 1917 under British colonial rule.
Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, a xenophobic German nationalist, radical egalitarian and father of German gymnastics, inspired Zionist thinking despite his anti-Semitism that eventually prompted clubs associated with his movement to create Aryan sections. Historian Petr Roubal quotes Jahan as saying that “Poles, French, clerics, landlords and Jews are Germany’s misfortune!”39 Jahn’s combination of seemingly contradictory racist and revolutionary views posed a challenge to reactionary rule in Germany. As a result, Jahn was incarcerated in 1819 and his gymnastics movement was banned. Released in 1825, he resurrected his movement in the form of a more militaristic group that favoured unification of the various German states as the 1848 revolutions swept across Europe.