Ghana defender John Pantsil may have enraged many in the Arab world Saturday when he waved Israel's flag to celebrate his team's two goals at the World Cup, but he also likely eased the plight of Ghanaian workers in Israel.
"For Ghanaians living and working in Israel, this gesture has put relations between us on a different level," said Frederick Ofori, the first secretary at Ghana's embassy in Ramat Gan.
Ofori, who decried the treatment of Ghanaian workers by the immigration police, said that since Pantsil's gesture during Ghana's victory over the Czech Republic the country's attitude toward workers from his country had changed dramatically.
"The Israeli public has grown warmer to the Ghanaian situation," Ofori said. "They have warmed up to us in the street, in the market and in the gym."
Ofori put the number of Ghanaians in Israel at less than 100, significantly down from what he said were a few thousand workers four years ago.
Ofori said that, despite an apology issued Monday by the Ghana Football Association, "the Ghanaian community back home was very happy about this gesture," which he described as a show of appreciation by Pantsil to his many Israeli fans. Pantsil plays for Hapoel Tel Aviv.
According to Ofori, Pantsil waved the blue-and-white because "he earns a living here and sees himself as part of Israeli society. Many Ghanaians feel a part of Israeli society, even though officialdom has rejected them and they have been treated badly by the immigration police."
Meanwhile, Jojo Effah-Broni, Ghana's deputy ambassador, said that while his government did not condemn Pantsil's action, it had made it clear that the footballer's gesture did not represent any official government position.
"We are not into the politics of it," he said. "He was just one man expressing his happiness in the frenzy of the match, but this is not the official position of Ghana football or the government." Effah-Broni said his government was indifferent to the issue and that people should leave Pantsil alone and "stop trying to misdirect his focus, and allow him to play."
In contrast, the GFA on Monday, amid a wave of criticism from the Arab world, called Pantsil "naive." GFA spokesman Randy Abbey said Pantsil was "obviously unaware of the implications of what he did" and that the GFA was not in Germany for politics.
"We don't support Israel or Arab nations," said Abbey. "It was unfortunate that the player was ignorant about the political situation."
Effah-Broni did not endorse the GFA apology, saying that democratic societies allow people to express themselves and that Pantsil did nothing wrong.
"Ghana has an embassy in Israel and we have a good relationship," he said. "If people are offended, that's their problem."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said that when Pantsil raised the Israeli flag, he "warmed every heart in the country and showed that Israel is an open and hospitable country and that people who come here can feel at home." Regarding the GFA apology, Regev said, "No statement by any sports bureaucrat can cast the shadow over something that was ultimately very positive."
Pantsil's action has also been a hot topic in Ghana. At the ghanaweb.com Internet site, there was much discussion about the flag-raising.
For example, one man wrote, "Some of you do not understand what it means to live in another country. You love everything about that country that you sometimes feel half part of it... The guy plays in Israel, men! He makes his living there... He is just trying to show his appreciation to the Israeli fans that he has come to love and looks at them as his brothers because they show him similar love."
Another poster wrote, "That was a stupid thing to do by John Pantsil. This was the Ghana national team and not Israel. He had no business carrying the Israeli flag in the first place. I stay in an Arab country and I am not happy with Pantsil's blunder. I will only put it down to illiteracy. I hope the Arabs will forgive us."
Dozens of Nobel laureates and international public figures will convene for the second time here on Wednesday to discuss and define their roles in responding to global crises. While the conference is slated to bring some of the world's greatest minds together to tackle the problems of "A World in Danger," much of the talk among delegates, journalists and guests is of a possible Thursday meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Jordanian sources at the conference said Tuesday that Olmert and Abbas may be seated at the same table Thursday morning at an informal breakfast for delegates hosted by King Abdullah II, as determined by diplomatic protocol. Official statements this week by both the PA and the Israeli government have stressed that there will be no formal meeting focusing on diplomatic issues between the two leaders at the Petra conference.
"This will not be a formal bilateral meeting," one official in the Prime Minister's Office said. "They will probably meet and shake hands, but not discuss anything at length."
Both Olmert and Abbas have been urged by the international community to meet, and such a bilateral meeting is expected within the next few weeks. If they do meet even briefly on Thursday, it will be the first such meeting since Hamas won the PA legislative elections in January and Olmert won the Israeli elections in March.
Olmert's visit to Petra, expected to last no more than a few hours, will be his second trip to Jordan in as many weeks. Earlier this month he held a meeting with Abdullah to brief him on his realignment plan.
"King Abdullah is hosting a breakfast for a number of participants on Thursday morning; among the invitees are the prime minister of Israel and the president of the Palestinian National Authority," Bassem Awadallah, director-general of King Abdullah's office, told reporters yesterday. "I am not aware of any other meetings that have been arranged between the two parties," he added.
The conferees have been invited to Jordan by the King Abdullah II Fund for Development and the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. During the two days of conference, most of which will take place behind closed doors, delegates are expected to discuss challenges to global security and development, particularly in the fields of nuclear non-proliferation, education, health and poverty and economic empowerment. The participants will also give special attention to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and other regional issues.
Abdullah and Wiesel are to address the opening ceremony of the conference.
"Hatred, an old and new infectious disease, is still ravaging the human heart. Indifference imperils our future," said Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is to host Abbas and Olmert in separate conversations during the conference. Abbas's session will be held Wednesday at five in the afternoon and Olmert's on Thursday morning.
"Both of them have been invited to a number of events hosted by His Majesty King Abdullah," Awadallah said, adding that the political issues, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian question are part of the conference's agenda, which aims to reach peaceful formulas to resolve international conflicts. "The presence of Abbas and Olmert falls within this context."
Vice Premier Shimon Peres, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat in 1994, will also be attending the conference. He is scheduled to meet Abdullah on Wednesday.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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