Walid Badir's goal last night, together with Abas Suan's last minute equalizer against Ireland had an importance which goes beyond football. Arab players are booed from the terraces on a weekly basis. Some of the songs that are sung in their direction are particularly racist; a blight on the game in Israel and something to be ashamed of.
To have two Arab players score the only goals for Israel in consecutive games is something which I feel we should be proud of. As a democratic State, all Israeli citizens are eligible to play in the national team and it is only correct that Badir and Suan are in the line up on merit. The question that I find interesting, is not whether they should be in the team - it is clear that they should be, but rather, how they feel about representing Israel - how they react when Hatikva is played at the start of the game - whether they meet with abuse at home for pulling on the white shirt?
Badir was present at a conference that I attended in November and despite being pressed on the matter of the anthem he refused to answer (as is his right). I would assume that he and other Arab players are conflicted by representing a country towards which I would think they have a certain ambivalence - certainly the issue of the national anthem which does not represent the Arab sector must be a problem.
When on the pitch however, there is no doubt where loyalties lie. Badir plays his heart out and has scored important goals for Israel. Football can easily bridge between cultures - give a group of men a ball and they'll forget their differences - even to the extent of the famous kick about between the slaughter of the trenches of World War I. Jews and Arabs lining up to play side by side? It's not far fetched - it happens every week and on an international stage - is there something to be learned from this?