On October 7, 2022, two Israeli civilians being held captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip were reported dead after being held for over 6 years . Israeli athlete Sagiv Jehezkel, who plays soccer in the Turkish league for Antalyaspor, made a gesture during a game on January 14th showing solidarity for the deceased Israeli captives with the numbers “426” and “100” on his undershirt . The numbers represented the number of days the two civilians were held hostage and a reference to the funeral. This act led to Jehezkel’s detention by Turkish authorities.
On January 15th, 2023, Jehezkel was detained after a complaint was filed by a Turkish citizen accusing him of “incitement to hatred” over the gesture . He was detained, questioned for several hours and told he would be deported from Turkey .
Israeli ministers criticized Turkey over the detention. Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said “It’s unfortunate that Erdoğan’s Turkey is losing its way in terms of human rights and freedom of expression,” and called for Jehezkel’s immediate release .
Antalyaspor terminated Jehezkel’s contract over the incident . The club said the gesture was “completely political” and against club rules.
Release and Aftermath
On January 16th, after negotiations between Israel and Turkey, Jehezkel was released and allowed to return to Israel . He said he was against war and just wanted to commemorate his friend . The investigation into him is still ongoing in Turkey.
The detention strained Turkish-Israeli relations. Israel warned citizens to avoid travel to Turkey and some Israeli ministers advocated suspending diplomatic ties . However, Turkey decided to deport Jehezkel instead of prosecuting him, possibly to avoid further escalating tensions.
The case also highlighted differences over freedom of expression. While Jehezkel’s gesture would likely have been legally protected free speech in Israel, Turkish laws prohibit incitement of hatred. This case demonstrated the contrasting approaches to balancing free speech and public order.
| Key Events Timeline |
| October 7, 2022 | Two Israeli civilian hostages reported dead in Gaza after over 6 years of Hamas captivity |
| January 14, 2023 | Sagiv Jehezkel makes solidarity gesture during Turkish league soccer match |
| January 15, 2023 | Jehezkel detained by Turkish authorities over “incitement to hatred” complaint |
| January 16, 2023 | Jehezkel released and departs Turkey after negotiations between governments |
The Turkish investigation into Jehezkel remains ongoing, although he has returned to Israel . Turkey could decide to charge him in absentia.
The incident demonstrated political tensions between Turkey and Israel. While the two countries have diplomatic relations, they frequently clash over Israeli-Palestinian issues. This event could further damage relations, especially if additional legal action proceeds against Jehezkel.
Inside Turkey, the detention also highlighted polarization on hot-button political issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The complaint and arrest following Jehezkel’s gesture showed the environment around these divisive topics. His termination by his Turkish club underscored how non-state entities also enforced these pressures around political expression.
The case will likely increase attention on other Israeli athletes playing in Turkey and their freedom to express political opinions. The contrasting legal approaches between the two countries mean other gestures or statements favoring Israel could also spur Turkish investigations or charges. This environment poses challenges for Israeli players’ free expression while participating in Turkish sports leagues.
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