The A-Z of Israel
On 22 January, Israelis will go to the polls. The world watches – but how much do we really know about the country that calls itself “the sole bastion of democracy” in the Middle East?
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L is for Ligat HaAl
Lior Eliyahu is one of Israel’s biggest stars. At over two metres tall, the 27-year-old basketball player is well suited to playing as power forward for his team, Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Basketball is a huge sport in Israel, battling with football for top spot, and the Ligat HaAl is the country’s biggest basketball competition. The tournament – its name translates as “super league” but it is also known as the Ligat Winner Sal, after its main sponsor, the national sports betting regulator – is the equi - valent of English football’s Premier League: an elite contest, with 12 teams taking part, and very little movement in or out.
Just four teams have won the Ligat HaAl since it was founded in 1953 (well, apart from the 1956 contest, which was cancelled because of the Suez crisis). Hapoel Tel Aviv won five times in the 1960s, Hapoel Galil in 1993 and 2010, Hapoel Holon in 2008, and Maccabi Tel Aviv every single other time, for a grand total of 50 victories (hapoel is roughly similar to the British “sporting association”).
On 18 November last year, in the middle of Israel’s most recent bombardment of Gaza (see C for Calories), the reigning champions won their match against south Israel’s Hapoel Eilat, but only after a shaky start. At the end of the third quarter, Maccabi were nine points down and it was thanks to Eliyahu, who was partly responsible for an astonishing 21-2 run in the game’s fourth quarter, that they pulled it around. Speaking to Haaretz after the game, he explained why his team-mates’ minds were elsewhere: “We were listening to the news all day in the hotel, and we’re trying to explain to the foreign players exactly what’s happening. Then we came to play, and tried to stay focused.”