Israel striker Tomer Hemed is facing scrutiny from Australia’s A-League over his politically-sensitive goal celebrations during Wellington Phoenix’s 2-2 draw with Melbourne City on Sunday.
The Wellington forward netted a double at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium and showed his support for his home nation amid the most serious hostilities in years with Hamas Islamists who rule Gaza.
After scoring a penalty late in the first half, Hemed ran to a group of supporters in the terraces and draped himself in an Israeli national flag.
And after securing the draw in the final minutes with his second goal of the game, Hemed pulled out a kippah, a traditional Jewish cap, from under his uniform and placed it on his head. The 34-year-old covered his face with one hand and pointed to the sky.
“We respect people’s rights for their expressions but at the same time we have to be very sensitive to what is going on in the Middle East and the human tragedy that is happening there,” Phoenix general manager David Dome told New Zealand media on Monday as the team arrived back in Wellington.
“We’ve already spoken to Tomer about that and over the next couple of days we will look into it in more detail and come up with a response about how we’re going to handle it on the day as well.
“I don’t expect a punishment but I think we will get a ‘please explain’ from the league.”
Hemed posted pictures of himself with the Israel flag on social media and dedicated the game to his country with a message calling for peace “soon”.
Hemed was given a yellow card immediately after his second celebration.
“I know for a fact that when he does that celebration he’s praying for peace,” Dome said. “He doesn’t see it as an insensitive celebration at all.”
The controversy overshadowed Phoenix’s return to Wellington on Monday, their first homecoming of the season after the opening of a “travel bubble” between Australia and New Zealand.
The sole New Zealand team in the A-League had been forced to base themselves in Australia due to COVID-related travel restrictions.