August 11, 2002
JERUSALEM -- The next time the Tel Aviv soccer team plays a home game, it will probably be in Bulgaria.
The reason: No professional soccer team has been allowed to play in Israel for months because the sport's European governing body considers it too dangerous. So Israeli teams must go elsewhere for their games, losing the home field advantage and the packed stadiums that go with it.
Fifty fans showed up for a game between an Israeli team, and a Belarus team played in a 22,000-seat stadium in Cyprus. But 500 Cypriot police were stationed in and around the stadium to guard the Israeli players.
"We play, but we don't play in Israel, and it's a huge disadvantage," said Ronan Dorfan of the Haaretz newspaper.
It is not only sports that is affected. Entertainers have stopped coming to Israel, which until two years ago was a lucrative gig for musicians touring Europe.
In the summer of 2000, Rage Against the Machine, Radiohead, Alanis Morissette, Lou Reed and R.E.M. staged concerts here. Last August, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were supposed to play here, but after three suicide bombings in as many days the group canceled, even though 20,000 tickets had been sold.
"No one is coming," said Yadidya Fraiman, an Israeli musician. "Isolation is certainly a word that fits."
Concert promoter Shuki Weiss, who has brought the likes of Bob Dylan to Israel, said the hope was that the violence would stop and the shows would go on.
"But it didn't get better," he said. "We have to start from scratch again. We have to begin at the bottom."
The problem is twofold. One, is that suicide bombers have transformed this country into a place where safety is a constant worry. The bombers have targeted restaurants, nightclubs, hotels and buses.
Two, is that Israel has come under harsh criticism, especially in Europe, for its treatment of Palestinians. That has led to entertainment being used as a forum for criticism, here and abroad.
One performer affected was Achinoam Nini, one of Israel's most popular singers, who was stunned when two protesters climbed on stage during a London concert in June and chided her about the Israeli treatment of Palestinians.