Illustration: Mo Salah by Дмитрий Голубович [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia
Mohamed Salah is on top of the soccer world right now. The Liverpool starlet hailing from Nagrig, a small Egyptian village, scored the decisive goal of the UEFA Champions League Final — the premier club soccer competition — in just the second minute of the match. By doing so, he paved the path to victory for his side against rival Tottenham Hotspurs.
The 26-year-old Salah’s premier form throughout the Champions League campaign was capped off by his stellar performance in the final, warranting adulation from the nearly 200 million-person television audience.
But behind his famed scraggly-haired, smiling disposition and unparalleled soccer talent is a history of bigotry and anti-Semitic behavior slipping under the radar as celebrations unfold.
Salah’s public record of discriminatory action began in a 2013 two-legged match against Maccabi Tel Aviv. Salah, at the time a part of FC Basel, refused to shake the hands of the Israeli players prior to the match.
The first meeting between the Israeli side and Basel saw Salah attempt to play off not shaking hands by feigning tying his shoe; however when the snub happened once more, this time in Tel Aviv, fans recognized the hostile act and proceeded to boo Salah harshly. Initially, Salah had plans to boycott the match altogether, though he was later persuaded by team officials to put politics and bigotry aside for the sake of the game.
Salah’s efforts at undermining the validity of Israel’s existence were furthered when he bashed the Jewish state in a pre-game interview ahead of a match in Netanya:
“In my thoughts I am going to play in Palestine and not Israel, and I am also going to score and win there. The Zionist flag won’t be shown in the Champions League.”
If his “tying my shoes” facade in 2013 wasn’t unsportsmanlike enough, his firebrand anti-Zionist comments and refusal to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist display Salah’s grotesque views on the conflict — a stark difference from his golden-boy public perception in the wake of the Champions League Final.
In a final triumphant act at the expense of Israeli soccer fans and all standards of fair play, Salah used his powerful position and newfound stardom at Liverpool to issue an ultimatum to the team’s management that he would refuse to play alongside Moanes Dabour, a 27-year-old Israeli Arab striker now at Spanish club Sevilla, whom Liverpool had taken an interest in. Dabour was never signed by the Reds, with widespread speculation that Salah’s threats caused the management to avoid moving forward with Dabour.
As Salah is feted for his impressive feat in the UEFA Champions League game, his politicization and aggressive anti-Zionist stance ought to have no place in the international sports arena. Both the UEFA and FIFA — the largest soccer governing body globally — publicly espouse their commitment to rejecting discrimination, racism, and other bigoted behavior from the sport altogether.
After his long and checkered past of clearly bigoted and discriminatory actions, Salah’s clout and physical adroitness should not exempt him from accountability.
Noah is a writer and researcher on topics of Israeli and Middle Eastern affairs. He is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The Jewish Examiner, an online Jewish news site covering issues pertaining to the Jewish community. His writing has appeared in the Daily Wire, Daily Caller, Washington Examiner, Jewish News Syndicate and dozens more; he can be followed on Twitter here.