Arab soccer fans turn to Israel TV for World Cup

With the World Cup in faraway Brazil coming at a time of unprecedented sectarian violence and soaring tension in the Middle East, some Arab football fans have been reduced to watching matches in secret or even on a TV channel owned by Israel. Qatar’s media conglomerate Al Jazeera owns broadcasting rights to the World Cup in the Middle East but most fans can’t afford to pay for the satellite broadcasts or won’t subscribe for political reasons. Instead, they’re tuning in to an Israeli channel that has been broadcasting the World Cup for free, with commentary in Hebrew — a foreign language to most Arabs.

Israeli media penetration into the Arab community is more devastating than its missiles.

Mohammed Shabana, the director of Egypt’s Sports Writers Association

Since the World Cup kicked off three weeks ago, Sunni Muslim extremists have seized territory in Iraq and Syria and declared an Islamic state. Lebanon has been hit by a spate of suicide bombings. Israelis and Palestinians were pushed on the edge of full conflict after the murders of four teenagers. Egypt’s political divide grew wider. Many accuse the Doha-based network of editorial bias in favor of the now banned Islamic group in Egypt and of Sunni insurgents fighting Shiite-dominated governments in Syria and Iraq.

Our people are eager to escape the political problems, so even those who are not interested in sports, watch the World Cup.

Hudaifa Srour, resident of the West Bank village of Naalin