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Ronaldinho takes flak for Israel visit

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JORDAN MOSHE

The former footballer for Brazil’s national team, Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, commonly known as Ronaldinho Gaúcho or simply Ronaldinho, was in Israel this week for a friendly game, pitting himself and other former Brazilian stars against former Israeli soccer stars.

The event, known as the Shalom Game, took place on Tuesday at the Sami Ofer stadium in Haifa, and is part of a sports initiative promoting peace and brotherhood between the two countries.

Ronaldinho posted the picture of himself with the coastal port in the background on Monday with the caption “Shalom” and an emoji of the Israeli flag. Pro-Palestinian social-media users instantly responded to the footballer’s tweet, many of them posting rows and rows of Palestinian-flag emojis and other images of anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian support.

Criticism for his visit far outweighed support on social media. “It’s sad that you support the Israeli occupation of Palestine,” wrote one user. “The Israeli occupation killed thousands of people in Palestine. It’s sad that you act like this.” Another user tweeted, “I’m surprised he didn’t say ‘homeland’ like the others. Shame on U. #FreePalestine.” Yet another responded, “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.”

Rowan Polovin, the national chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation, pointed out the absurdity of these responses. “Statements that claim that Haifa is ‘Palestine’ or ‘occupied Palestinian territory’ reveal the simple truth that the anti-Israel lobby doesn’t accept Israel’s right to exist, and has no interest in peace or any kind of negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Bigots who make such claims should be rejected out of hand.”

Haifa is Israel’s third largest city, and the commercial and administrative centre of the north of the country. The principal port of Israel, the city is situated on the northern slopes of Mount Carmel and lies along the Bay of Haifa overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

The city was included in the Jewish-controlled region proposed in the 1947 United Nations Partition plan, and towards the end of the British Mandate, Jews and the Arabs both attempted to gain control of it. The Haganah took it over, and an estimated 3 000 of its 50 000 Arab residents chose to remain there while the rest, in response to the Arab High Committee’s orders, refused to accept Jewish rule and abandoned their homes.

Still, Haifa has for years been Israel’s model of a “mixed” Jewish-Arab city. Official figures suggest that Arabs make up 14% to 18% of Haifa’s 280 000 strong population.

This isn’t the first time the Brazilian striker has visited Israel. Last year, Ronaldinho established the Ronaldinho Soccer Academy in Israel for children aged six to 16.

“I’m very excited to help Israeli children of all faiths raise their game to the highest level,” Ronaldinho reportedly said at the time.

“I see the school as a first-class educational tool that helps in acquiring skills, tools for life, discipline, teamwork and more. Israel has tremendous potential, countless talent, and a great love of the game.”

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