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Books at a Glance Politics, History and Culture by David Rodman

From Game to Commodity: Israeli Soccer 1948-1999. By Amir Ben-Porat. Beer Sheva, Bialik/Ben-Gurion University Press, 2002.not selected
Tamir Sorek. Arab Soccer in a Jewish State, The Integrative Enclave. Edited by Tamir Sorek and Jeffrey C. Alexander. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007. ú46.50. ISBN 978-0-521-87048-1.selected

Books at a Glance Politics, History and Culture by David Rodman

Tamir Sorek. Arab Soccer in a Jewish State, The Integrative Enclave. Edited by Tamir Sorek and Jeffrey C. Alexander. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007. ú46.50. ISBN 978-0-521-87048-1.


This book is about the Arab football club of Sakhnin. It is also about the Arabs who live in the town of Sakhnin located in the Upper Galilee of Israel. But most importantly, this book is about the efforts of the Palestinian-Arab minority to achieve equal citizenship in the State of Israel. Arab Soccer in a Jewish State is a most valuable addition to the existing research on Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Putting himself in the role of a mid-fielder in football, the author, Tamir Sorek, is well equipped to address this issue of Israeli Arab attempts to be equal citizens in the State of Israel. His intentions are declared in his stated multi-faceted methodology: 'a sociological-anthropological-historical project which utilizes diverse research methods, and presents the subject through a wide range of lenses, from microscopic scrutiny to bird's-eye view' (p. 11). A football coach, even one who admires a 'total football' strategy, would be very sceptical about such wide manoeuvring, but Sorek proves to the reader it that it is worth trying - this book sheds light on an issue that has been neglected by academics who study, write about and interpret what they call the 'Arab problem' in the State of Israel. Through the lens of football, Sorek reminds us that this is not just an 'Arab problem' but also an Israeli problem, and that the football arena is an integral element of this problem.

This books is based on two sources; 1) historical reports regarding Arabs and sport in Palestine and in Israel, and 2) an ethnographic (field) study by the author. Soccer games in Israel are played on 'two different levels', writes Sorek. 'The second level is the broader public sphere, in which power relations between various agents are expressed in the battle over collective consciousness. The main axis of this battle is the following subtle dialectic: an opportunity for integration into Israeli-Jewish society and acceptance by the Jewish majority versus a stage for promoting political protest and national pride' (pp. 6-7). This is the essence of the book: are Arabs in cooperation or in encounters with the Jews in a state that definitely favour the latter and can football change the balance?

In spite of its simplicity it is possible to suggest that the position and function of football in any society can be considered/evaluated by means of either the 'integrative model', i.e. as mechanism of integration, or by means of the 'protest model', hence as a mechanism of change. The relevant literature on sport and politics can be classified into one of the above two models.

Sorek offers an interesting point of departure, 'The Integrative Enclave'. Actually this is very close to the 'integrative model' noted above. He states his leading assumption very clearly: 'I argue that the integrative orientation of soccer takes precedence in present day Israeli soccer' (p. 8). It thus seems appropriate to suggest, following Althusser's conception, that soccer in Israel is a 'state apparatus', not an oppressive-aggressive one but a soft one: an ideological apparatus in the service of the Israeli state.

Chapters two to eight of this book (chapter one deals with the history of Arab-Palestinian soccer and is highly recommended) report the process and the results of the field study: interviews, surveys and more. The author elaborates on his key concepts quite convincingly: on the basis of the study's results it appears that Arab football fans and also related others such as the mayors of Arab towns refrain from utilizing the soccer arena in Israel for political protest. 'Surprisingly enough hellip [for] Arab men in Israel hellip soccer is far from being a site for political resistance or explicit national identification' (p. 9).

This is indeed a surprising observation. Sorek points to a few cases in various countries in the world where soccer was, and is, used by certain minorities as a political tactic. Moreover, the relevant literature suggests that the soccer stadium is a most effective venue for protest on various issues. In fact in Israel also a group of Jewish right-wing soccer fans use the soccer arena to vent their anti-Arab attitudes. Sorek claims that the Arab football fans in Israel have decided on avoidance as a tactic or even as a strategy: they do not want a political battle on the soccer pitch. They do not want to turn the stadium into nationalistic, contested terrain, meaning that every game would turn into an open conflict between the Arab and the Jewish fans. Practically, the enclave is much more of an escape territory rather than an integrative one.

Arab fans, argues Sorek, wish to be accepted through soccer as equal citizens of the Israeli state, which is in fact Jewish state. Sorek exposes the 'innocent' position of the state regarding Arab soccer: 'Arab sport in general and soccer in particular became a tool for diluting the Arab's minority national identification while at the same time preventing political fermentation; soccer became one of the tools used by the state to strengthen its legitimacy among Arab-Palestinian minority' (p. 184). Indeed a 'state apparatus' is in practice: the soccer integrative enclave is no more than a tranquilizer; the state uses it to preserve the status quo, that is, the inferiority of the Arab minority, while at the same time the Arab-Palestinian fans believe that soccer can enhance their social equality.

The conclusions of this book are interesting and intriguing. Why at the height of the conflict between the Arab-Palestinians and the Jewish majority is the soccer stadium in Israel not utilized by the Arab minority to deliver their political demands for equal citizenship? Sorek offers a few answers to this question. One seems most effective: as in other places soccer is contingent on its political-economic-cultural surroundings, thus, soccer cannot offer redemption. Israel is defined by law as a Jewish state. A restructuring of the state is required in order to eliminate the integrative enclave. It is not soccer, dear Arab citizen, it is the Israeli state that stands between you and social equality.

(reviewed by Amir Ben Porat)

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