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Israeli soccer player released after incitement charge in Turkey

Antalya's Chief Public Prosecutor's Officer charged Sagiv Jehezkel with "inciting the public to hatred and hostility."

Sagiv Jehezkel played for the Turkish soccer team Antalyaspor. Credit: Antalyaspor.
Sagiv Jehezkel played for the Turkish soccer team Antalyaspor. Credit: Antalyaspor.

Israeli soccer player Sagiv Jehezkel (sometimes spelled Yehezkel), who plays for Turkish club Antalyaspor, was released from custody on Monday and is expected to leave Turkey immediately, Kan News reported.

Jehezkel was suspended from his team and was to face charges in court for incitement after showing support for Israeli hostages kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry took credit for Jehezkel’s sudden release.

“For the last 24 hours, under the guidance of Foreign Minister Israel Katz, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs worked with all the relevant parties in Turkey in order to bring about the speedy release of Sagiv Jehezkel,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Turkey has become a dark dictatorship, working against humane values ​​and sports values,” Katz said.

“Whoever arrests a soccer player for an act of identification with 136 abductees who have been held for over 100 days by the terrorists of a murderous terrorist organization, represents a culture of murder and hatred,” he added.

Katz called on the international community to act against Turkey for threatening athletes. “Today it’s Sagiv Jehezkel, tomorrow it’s another athlete.”

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant accused Turkey of ingratitude following the incident, posting to X: “When there was an earthquake in Turkey less than a year ago, Israel was the first country to stand up and extend aid that saved the lives of many Turkish citizens.

“The scandalous arrest of the footballer Sagiv Jehezkel is an expression of hypocrisy and ingratitude. In its actions, Turkey serves as the executive arm of Hamas,” he said.

Jehezkel, 28, was arrested early Monday by police after showing at a game a message written on a bandaged hand: “100 days. 7.10” along with a Star of David in solidarity with hostages held by Hamas on the 100th day of their captivity.

The city of Antalya’s Chief Public Prosecutor’s Officer charged Jehezkel with “inciting the public to hatred and hostility,” according to Anadolu Agency, Turkey’s state-run news service.

Antalyaspor’s deputy president and spokesperson Evren Alkan said that the club would terminate Jehezkel’s deal. If the club ended the three-season contract, it would owe Jehezkel $1 million, Israel’s Channel 12 reported.

The club announced after the game on Sunday that it was suspending Jehezkel, who plays right-wing for the top-flight club and has played for the Israel national team on eight occasions so far.

“Sagiv Jehezkel, following his goal in the 68th minute during the match against Trabzonspor, has been deemed to have acted against our country’s national values by sharing an inscription on his wrist. In response, the board of directors has decided to exclude him from the squad,” the club said in a statement posted to social media.

Antalyaspor had initially uploaded Jehezkel’s goal-scoring celebration to its social media accounts, but deleted them minutes later after the posts ignited widespread anger among fans and in the media.

The club’s actions disappointed Jehezkel, according to those close to him, Ynet reported. Jehezkel has been productive for the club, scoring six goals and two assists in 13 matches.

Jehezkel told police and his club that he meant his act as a humanitarian gesture, not a provocation.

“I am not in favor of war. There are Israeli soldiers captured in Gaza. I think the war should end now, that’s why I showed the sign. I have nothing to do with politics. I have never done anything political since I arrived in Turkey. I have never disrespected anyone,” he said.

Initially, the Israel Football Association (IFA) chartered a private plane to take Jehezkel from Turkey, but then Jehezkel was informed that the police wanted him for questioning.

IFA head Moshe Zuares also had tried to enlist the help of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF), but it, too, condemned Jehezkel.

“His suspension is appropriate. Necessary procedures and disciplinary investigations against those responsible were opened immediately. The public should have no doubt that necessary measures will be taken against those responsible for this act, which offends human dignity and the conscience of Turkish society,” the TFF said.

Anger in Turkey has also spilled out against Eden Kartsev, an Israeli defensive midfielder for Turkish Süper Lig club İstanbul Başakşehir, after he expressed support for Jehezkel.

Maccabi Haifa is considering adding Kartsev to its roster as he may now leave Turkey, Israel Hayom reported.

After a cold spell in relations, Turkey had made friendly gestures towards Israel but President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reverted to form following the Oct. 7 attack and has made inciting speeches against Israel and recalled Turkey’s ambassador from Israel.

In late December, Erdoğan compared Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler.

“We watched Israel’s Nazi camps. What kind of job is this?” asked Erdoğan during a speech, according to a Channel 12 translation. “They talk about Hitler in a strange way. What is the difference between them and Hitler? They will make us miss Hitler even more,” he continued.

Meanwhile, on Sunday a moment of silence was observed followed by shouts of “Free Palestine” at an Asian Cup game between Iran and the Palestinian soccer team in Qatar.

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