If matkot is Israel’s unofficial national sport, soccer is the game that gets the most prime-time attention. In Israel as in many other countries, it’s a hugely popular activity across communities and ethnicities; Jews, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else grows up watching soccer, knowing the rules, and likely playing the game at some point or another.
It is a popular notion that soccer transcends politics—certainly it brings people together on a field to play—but in fact passions run high, and hotheadedness in this notoriously dramatic sport can quickly lead to skirmishes both on the field and in the stands. (This is as true in Manchester as in Tel Aviv, but in Israel the subject of debate can move from a foul play to foul politics in no time.) Still, fans of most Israeli teams cut through all sectors of society, and many club teams include both Jewish and Muslim players such as those at Peres Center For Peace. And, as in the rest of the world, in Israel this is no longer a sport for men only: professional women’s soccer is growing quickly.
Although the scores are low in soccer, the action doesn’t let up. Stop into any wharf bar in Jaffa or Tel Aviv during soccer season and you’ll find a crowd of fans, riveted to the television screen, hoping that their team—whichever team that may be—will get a goal.