Turkey arrests Israeli soccer star for supporting hostages’ freedom

Sagiv Jehezkel showed off an armband saying “100 days” and the date 7/10 after he scored a goal for his Turkish team.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

An Israeli soccer player was arrested on suspicion of “inciting people to hatred and hostility” in Turkey, after he showed support for some 136 hostages still being held by the Hamas terror organization in the Gaza Strip.

Sagiv Jehezkel, a member of Turkey’s Antalyaspor soccer club, had shown off his bandaged wrist to the cameras and made a heart sign with his hands after scoring a goal against a rival club Sunday in Turkey’s premier league.

He had written on his wrist “100 days 10/7,” referring to the date Hamas had abducted about 250 Israelis and other nationals during their massacre of 1,200 people, and the length of time they have been held captive.

Social media exploded in anger over the picture of the striker pointing to the words on his hand. He received death threats online, fans of the club demanded his removal, and the regular media quickly joined the crusade.

“Your immorality should be protested everywhere,” wrote one journalist. “To this day, no one has spoken out against Jehezkel for his faith and they respected him, but Jehezkel chose to praise cruelty.”

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Team officials quickly suspended Jehezkel and announced the termination of his contract with the club.

According to Ynet, Jehezkel tried in vain to explain to them that all he had wanted to do was “make a humanitarian tribute to the Israeli hostages in Gaza,” and that he “had no intention to provoke or express a stance on the matter” because he “understand[s] the sensitivity in Turkey” on the issue.

Things unraveled quickly from there. The Israeli foreign ministry arranged for a private plane to fly Jehezkel and his wife out of the country on Monday morning, and they hurried to pack up all their belongings. However, in the middle of the night, the Antalya city prosecutor ordered that he be taken in for questioning.

Calling his empathy an “ugly action he carried out in support of the massacre carried out by Israel in Gaza,” he claimed that Jehezkel had incited the public to hatred. “We will always stand by the Palestinian people,” he added.

Club representatives and legal counsel accompanied him to the police station. When he was told that his gesture was seen as support for the IDF offensive, which arouses public hostility due to the focus in Turkey on the suffering of ordinary Gazans in the war, the striker, who also plays for Israel’s national team, denied that this was his motivation.

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“I did not mean to belittle the Turkish people,” he said. “This is a misunderstanding. I have friends who have been murdered and people I know who have been kidnapped. I had no political intentions.”

After being brought before a judge Monday morning, Jehezkel was released and is expected to return to Israel.

According to a report in Maariv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had requested that public statements on the crisis be limited and restrained in tone in order not to inflame the situation even further as officials work for the soccer player’s release.

Jerusalem and Ankara have been in a war of words ever since the war broke out as Turkish President Recep Erdogan has compared Netanyahu to Hitler and Turkey joined South Africa’s bid in the International Court of Justice to have Israel tried for “genocide” for its military actions targeting Hamas.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant did not heed the request of his party leader, however, saying, “When there was an earthquake in Turkey less than a year ago, Israel was the first country to stand up and extend aid that saved the lives of many Turkish citizens. The scandalous arrest of the soccer player Sagiv Jehezkel is an expression of hypocrisy and ingratitude. In its actions, Turkey is serving as the operative arm of Hamas.”

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Gideon Sa’ar of the National Unity party and a member of the security cabinet, said Israel should retaliate on several levels, including the legal one.

“The anti-Semitic Erdogan’s Turkey is conducting itself against Israel as an enemy state,” he said. “Israel should consider filing a complaint with the International Court of Justice in The Hague against Turkey for occupying northern Cyprus and the ethnic cleansing of Greek-Cypriots, as well as the occupation of northern Syria and the ethnic cleansing of Kurds.”

Israelis, he added, should stop going to Turkey for their vacations, and avoid importing Turkish goods, which are ubiquitous on supermarket shelves throughout the country.