For two decades, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, Israeli soccer players participated in Asian leagues and associations. During this period, they achieved much and celebrated significant athletic victories. But at the same time, they were met with hostility and boycotts and excluded from entire tournaments, until August 1976, when the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) officially expelled the Israeli Football Association (IFA) from its ranks. From the outset, the national team’s activities in Asia elicited intense discussions about Israel’s membership in the AFC that went far beyond the weighing of practical and athletic issues. By tracing these debates as they raged in the Israeli press, in this article I demonstrate that the question of the IFA’s regional affiliation was a platform for deeper deliberations about the country’s very place on the Asian continent. The highly ambivalent attitudes that emerged, I argue, reflected deep insecurities about the Jewish state’s geo-cultural belonging and self-perception that are best understood against the backdrop of Israeli political realities of the 1960s and 70s and in the context of early twentieth-century debates about the orientation of the Zionist movement.
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ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cultural Studies
- Religious studies