Many people associate the term “fake news” with U.S. President Donald Trump. Yet, that’s also fake: this form of journalism has existed for centuries as an example of how news can either be falsified, unverified or misleading in nature.
Fake news isn’t about to disappear anytime soon. It’s manifested to the point where trial balloons are launched without a scintilla of proof, and are allowed to fester and take lives of their own.
That’s what may have recently happened to soccer star Mohamed Salah.
On Dec. 25, 2018, Jerusalem Post reporter Hagay Hacohen wrote a short piece about the Liverpool FC player that compiled some existing stories/rumours from the Israeli media. Heavy on allegations and light on facts, it still took off like wildfire on social media.
Here it is in its entirety:
“Egyptian super-star Mohamed Salah has allegedly threatened to leave Premier League football club Liverpool if Arab-Israeli soccer player Moanes Dabour joins the team, Israeli media reported. However, people close to the Egyptian athlete said he needs to be left alone to focus on playing soccer and that he is a professional, and it is not his concern with whom Liverpool is discussing a possible contract. In the past, Salah refused to shake hands with Israeli players with the pretext of tying his shoes during a game between Maccabi Tel Aviv and FC Basel, his team at the time. Former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman tweeted in April, in jest, that he would recruit Salah to the Israeli army after seeing how he led Liverpool to a 5-2 victory over Roma.”
This piece caught my eye for several reasons.
I’m a huge fan of Liverpool, which is currently leading the English Premier League (17 wins, 3 draws and no losses). Salah, who agreed to a transfer from Italy’s AS Roma in June 2017 for a club-record fee of £36.9 million, is a significant reason for this success. Liverpool hasn’t won the EPL since the 1989-1990 season, when it was still known as Division 1, so the slightest controversy involving its star player could bring this stellar season to a crashing halt.
Hence, I decided to determine whether it was a legitimate story or fake news.
Salah, who is Muslim, has no history of anti-Semitic behaviour against Jews, either inside or outside his sport. One of the teams he’s played for, Chelsea FC, is owned by prominent Jewish businessman Roman Abramovich.
But in 2013, he reportedly refused to shake the hands of the Maccabi Tel Aviv side before the start of a Champions League qualifier against his then-team, Switzerland’s FC Basel. They, in turn, told the Daily Telegraph in Jan. 2014 it was “a coincidence and no snub was intended,” and he was simply tying his shoes.
Salah played the second leg of the qualifier in Tel Aviv. He held a press conference to put this issue to rest, and scored an important goal. Nevertheless, his decision to fist-bump the Maccabi players on the pitch after shaking the referee’s hand and his assistants led to widespread booing.
Observers have since re-evaluated these two controversies. Emotions were running high, it could have been handled better on all sides, and nothing further happened. It was easier to call it an unfortunate series of events, and move on.
What about this current controversy?
There’s no indication Salah wants to leave Liverpool if they sign Dabour. He hasn’t made a single comment in public to this effect, and there’s no proof these alleged threats ever occurred. He even tweeted on Dec. 27 in response to this growing controversy, “There’s no place for racism in football. There’s no place for racism anywhere at all.”
Could Salah’s private feelings about Dabour and Israel be different? Yes, it’s possible. But as things currently stand, this so-called bombshell is nothing more than fake news.