Dozens of protesters in Indonesia against the participation of the Israeli soccer team in the World Youth Championship (Reuters)
"Allahu Akbar!", "Don't let Israel play!", "Israel is the enemy of Islam!"
These are not chants in anti-Israel demonstrations in Tehran.
Not even in the territories or in an Arab country.
These are calls that were heard last week, almost 9,000 kilometers from Jerusalem, in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, when hundreds of protesters blocked major roads, waving signs, Palestinian flags and burning Israeli flags while chanting against the Israeli soccer team.
Less than two months to the opening whistle for the Mondialeto, the under-20 soccer World Cup, and in the host Indonesia, in the shadow of the preparations for the tournament, there is unrest over a small detail in this Mondialeto: Israel's youth team is making a historic debut in the class.
With the anti-Israeli protests increasing in the background, hundreds of millions of Muslims and broad public support in Palestine,
What really awaits the Israeli national team in the Muslim country with the largest Muslim majority in the world?
And what is actually the background to these demonstrations?
And is it really dangerous?
On March 31, 24 national teams, including Israel, will be divided into six groups, with each group playing in a different city, and for the first time ever, this country will host a global sports event.
Indonesia is a huge country.
About 278 million people, of which almost 90% are Muslims, living in an archipelago of islands that spans a vast area in Southeast Asia.
There is everything there.
About 1,300 different ethnic groups, about 700 different languages are spoken there, and besides Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and members of other religions also live there.
Despite this, it can certainly be said that Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world.
As mentioned, the Mondialeto will be the first world cup that it hosts, in any field and in any sport.
"The atmosphere is great," says Lavala Sport!
Aon Rahman, Indonesian football journalist.
"This is the first time we are hosting a World Cup, and you can say it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our country."
An opportunity an opportunity, but even the Indonesians did not expect what Oscar Gloch and his friends did in the Euros until the last 19 years, when Ofir Haim's apprentices finished in second place after losing to England in extra time and secured their place in the tournament.
Suddenly, from a football celebration in the atmosphere of Southeast Asia, a political event with security potential begins to develop here.
causing a stir even before their arrival.
The stars of Israel's youth team (Photo: GettyImages, VLADIMIR SIMICEK)
Indonesia has no official relations with Israel, and despite various reports of the development of relations under the surface, officially it does not recognize Israel and has openly supported the Palestinians for decades.
As a country with a significant Muslim majority, the prevailing opinion of Israel on the street is not positive to say the least, and it seems that now political groups such as the Islamic Alliance, which is considered extreme, as well as more moderate Islamic groups, are beginning to unite against Israel's arrival.
"It has a historical background," Rahman explains.
"Our first president, Sukarno, established a policy prohibiting games against Israel as early as 1958 when we were drawn to play against them in the World Cup qualifiers, because of the situation with the Palestinians of course. To this day, this is the guiding policy in Indonesia."
But despite this policy, and despite the calls that are heard increasing as the tournament approaches, the president of the Indonesian Football Association, Erik Tuhir, former owner of Inter, Philadelphia Sixers and DC United, spoke out on the subject a few months ago and said: "We as hosts should accept every team that qualified."
"Indonesia is divided on this debate," Rahman explains.
"Many people here think that it is forbidden to play against Israel, and that it is forbidden for Israel to come here at all, but many people also say that the Israeli team should be allowed to come and participate as planned - because it is first and foremost a sport and it should not be mixed with politics."
An official FIFA tournament changes rules in countries. For example, when Qatar was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup, it committed to allowing Israeli fans to enter, as part of FIFA's requirement that in its tournaments, the host country is obligated to allow teams and fans from every country that is a member of the organization to enter and watch the games.
In fact - when a country hosts a tournament of the World Football Federation, that country becomes a FIFA country. One of the solutions that officials in the organization tried to promote until recently, according to sources in the organization, is that Israel will be assigned in any case to a house that will be played in Bali. Bali is an island with a majority Hindu population, and different from the rest of Indonesia.
However, this week, this initiative suffered a severe blow. The governor of Bali, Wayan Koster, sent a letter to the Indonesian sports minister in which he refused to host the Israeli team during the World Cup. "Despite what the governor stated, Bali is still the best solution for That Israel will come here and compete," Rahman explains.
Home to some huge clubs.
Fans in Indonesia (Photo: GettyImages, Allsport Co.)
It should be understood that Indonesia is an important country in Southeast Asian football.
It is the home of huge clubs such as Persib Bandung, Persipura Jayapura and Persija Jakarta, each of which has millions of fans in the country and neighboring countries (Malaysia, Singapore, etc.), and tens of thousands in the stadium at every game.
This year's tournament creates some logistical problems for the big clubs and there is already tension in terms of schedules, with the big teams having to take care of alternative stadiums.
The expectations of the locals from the sky-high team.
"We always expect our national teams to go far," says Rahman, "a lot depends on the house we get, but everyone is quite confident that we can reach the quarter-finals," he says.
"The world will see the passion and magic of the Indonesian crowd in this tournament."
Pawzan, a well-known Indonesian blogger who writes under the name Footyrankings, says to Walla!
Sports: "The public support will be wonderful. The passion for the national team here is tremendous at all ages, and the atmosphere at Indonesia's games is expected to resemble the atmosphere at big games in the league."
So that's it, not sure it's necessarily positive.
The passion in Indonesia for soccer is indeed tremendous, and sometimes even exceeds the limit of good taste.
In the last decade, there have been more and more clashes between fans and police in stadiums, such as what happened last October, when at least 129 football fans were killed in the Kanjurohan Stadium in the city of Malang, during a league match between Arma and Persabaya.
Fans broke into the field, the police fired tear gas and dozens were crushed to death in the stands.
Some of the dead died from over-inhalation of gas.
So can the players of the Israeli national team feel safe going to Indonesia?
If you ask Rahman, then yes.
"Indonesia is a safe place. Also for the fans and the media. Even when Malaysia comes, and it's a very tough opponent, things still run safely."
Pozen also confirms: "The Indonesian government and the association have promised to guarantee the safety and preparations of the Israeli team, so that even if it is not in Bali, it will be able to host and play in other cities without a problem," he says.
Indonesia: 129 people were killed and 180 were injured in a riot at a football stadium.
October 2, 2022 (Reuters News Agency)
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So despite the protests, it seems that only an extraordinary move, in a short period of time, will prevent or jeopardize the participation of the Israeli national team in the Mondialeto.
Security of official sports delegations is a familiar practice for the Israeli security services, and in addition it is unlikely that the host country will risk expulsion from FIFA and international shame, if by chance it decides not to allow Israel to come, you will allow damage to the national team during its stay in the Mondialeto, or even better, it will suddenly give up hosting Less than two months before the opening whistle. Indonesia was suspended from FIFA in the previous decade due to government involvement in soccer, and now that all eyes are on it, it is unlikely that they will take any chances there.
In the meantime, FIFA officials who are aware of the preparations and what is being done in the organizing committee of the Indonesian association broadcast business as usual in closed conversations and concentrate on preparations for the tournament. Even if the house draw next Saturday will schedule Israel to play in Bali, and even if the protests in Jakarta continue and even expand, an official in the football association said to Walla! Sports this week: "There were protests in most of the places where the Israeli national team came to play.
It didn't stop us from playing there, and winning them."
The youth team
World Championship under the age of 20