Soccer star Sagiv Jehezkel is a national symbol after Turkey turmoil

Opinion: Sagiv Jehezkel decided to celebrate the goal he scored for his Turkish team with a tribute to the hostages in Gaza and he will pay a heavy price for his action; However, if he returns to play in Israel, there's doubt if any rival fan could hate him, no matter how many goals he scores against the other team
In just a few days, Sagiv Jehezkel has become a symbol in Israel. Until Sunday, he was a relatively unknown soccer player to those not well-versed in the sports scene. However, he made headlines when he scored a goal for his Turkish team Antalyaspor, and celebrated it by standing in front of the camera, pointing to the inscription on his armband, "100 days, October 7," alongside a Star of David. This image is set to change his life.
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Initially, in Turkey, no one understood the magnitude of the act and his team even shared the photo on its social media pages. Even the audience in the stadium did not notice as he celebrated his goal. But very quickly, a storm erupted on social media, the post was removed, and the team officially announced his suspension due to his actions, which, according to the club president, went against "the values of the team."
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Sagiv Jehezkel after landing in Israel  from Turkey
Sagiv Jehezkel after landing in Israel  from Turkey
Sagiv Jehezkel after landing in Israel from Turkey
(Photo: Radad Jabara)
Since then there has been a snowball effect, an investigation began and Jehezkel was arrested. His world turned upside down in an instant just as, in the meantime in Israel, he became a national symbol. The public in Israel is constantly looking for such symbols on ordinary days and certainly in difficult and challenging times like during a war.
Jehezkel, at the young age of 28, moved to Turkey on Rosh Hashanah after reaching an agreement with Antalyaspor in the middle of the holiday. Those who know Jehezkel know that he was very excited about the move to Turkey and did not hesitate. On the contrary, he decided to move in a moment. Since the horrific massacre by Hamas on October 7, Jehezkel and his Israeli teammate on Antalyaspor , Ramzi Safouri, are torn between soccer and life itself.
For example, Jehezkel and Safouri requested to be absent from a team game at the beginning of the war because they knew there would be a ceremony for the dead Palestinians in Gaza. Jehezkel celebrated his first goal in Turkey since the war started by praying to God. It was a symbolic and beautiful moment. No one expected Jehezkel to celebrate a goal with a dedication to IDF soldiers. No one expected him to sing the national anthem like Deni Avdija in the NBA or continuously provide explanations to Israelis on social media like Manor Solomon in England. Because Turkey is Turkey.
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שחקן אנטליהספור שגיב יחזקאל עם מחוה לחטופים
שחקן אנטליהספור שגיב יחזקאל עם מחוה לחטופים
Sagiv Jehezkel with the tribute on his armband
(Photo: Screenshot)
Even in a post he uploaded after the goal he scored at the beginning of the war, Jehezkel seemed to be well aware of his choice of words. "Every second of the game, I thought about how I bring joy to my country," he wrote, refraining from using the word Israel or, God forbid, the blue and white flag.
But Monday, when the country marked 100 days since the abduction of civilians by Hamas terrorists, Jehezkel placed his country and values ahead of the significant money and even before his career. Inspirational figures, those who become national symbols, earn an unofficial title that society grants them in a single moment. The moment they give up something greater than their personal benefit for the greater good. For the sake of values.
Beyond the nightmare he experienced while in detention in Turkey, Jehezkel's actions may take a heavy toll on his career. The Turks could make things very difficult for him and pose challenges in selling him to another team. He might endure difficulties that keep him off the field for a long time until European football organizations decide to act.
Jehezkel took a big risk for what he believes in and has become a national symbol. Even if he returns to play in Israel, there's doubt if there's a single soccer fan would want to curse him, no matter how many goals he scores against them.
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