Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel boycott

Tennis Deals a Blow to the Boycott of Israel

Malik Jaziri, the top-ranked tennis player in Tunisia who has an impressive record of representing his country in international tournaments, was about to play a quarterfinal match at the ATP Challenger Tournament in Uzbekistan last October. Moments before stepping onto the court, he received a career-shattering email from his bosses at the tennis federation back in Tunis.

Jaziri had been drawn against an Israeli professional, Amir Weintraub; the Tunisian tennis federation, which continues to follow the Arab League boycott of the State of Israel to the letter, declared this to be a red line that Jaziri was not permitted to cross. “Following a meeting this afternoon with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, I have the immense regret to inform you that you are ordered not to play against the Israeli player,” read the email. Jaziri had no choice but to withdraw and Weintraub went through to the semi-final on a forfeit.

It goes without saying that Jaziri himself was blameless in the matter. Interviewed after being forced to withdraw, he expressed the fear that the decision would badly damage his career. His brother and manager, Amir Jaziri, slammed the decision as “shocking, because it brings politics into sport.”  Meanwhile, Amir Weintraub himself described Jaziri as “a good friend,” adding wistfully that the Tunisian had “really wanted to play.”

That in of itself is not a surprise; after all, athletes live for competition, not political strife. But what is noteworthy is that the International Tennis Federation (ITF), mindful that this was not the first time that Israeli players had been subjected to a boycott, and anxious to bring the practice to an end, took unprecedented action.  Hence this statement released yesterday by the ITF’s Board of Directors at their meeting in Cagliari, Italy, confirming that Tunisia has been suspended from next year’s Davis Cup:

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Malik Jaziri, the top-ranked tennis player in Tunisia who has an impressive record of representing his country in international tournaments, was about to play a quarterfinal match at the ATP Challenger Tournament in Uzbekistan last October. Moments before stepping onto the court, he received a career-shattering email from his bosses at the tennis federation back in Tunis.

Jaziri had been drawn against an Israeli professional, Amir Weintraub; the Tunisian tennis federation, which continues to follow the Arab League boycott of the State of Israel to the letter, declared this to be a red line that Jaziri was not permitted to cross. “Following a meeting this afternoon with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, I have the immense regret to inform you that you are ordered not to play against the Israeli player,” read the email. Jaziri had no choice but to withdraw and Weintraub went through to the semi-final on a forfeit.

It goes without saying that Jaziri himself was blameless in the matter. Interviewed after being forced to withdraw, he expressed the fear that the decision would badly damage his career. His brother and manager, Amir Jaziri, slammed the decision as “shocking, because it brings politics into sport.”  Meanwhile, Amir Weintraub himself described Jaziri as “a good friend,” adding wistfully that the Tunisian had “really wanted to play.”

That in of itself is not a surprise; after all, athletes live for competition, not political strife. But what is noteworthy is that the International Tennis Federation (ITF), mindful that this was not the first time that Israeli players had been subjected to a boycott, and anxious to bring the practice to an end, took unprecedented action.  Hence this statement released yesterday by the ITF’s Board of Directors at their meeting in Cagliari, Italy, confirming that Tunisia has been suspended from next year’s Davis Cup:

The Board was not satisfied with the case put forward by the Tunisian Tennis Federation and voted to suspend Tunisia from the 2014 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas competition. The decision of the ITF Board was unanimous although ITF Board Member from Tunisia, Tarak Cherif, recused himself from the discussion and the vote.

The 2013 ITF Constitution states the ITF and its members must preserve the integrity and independence of Tennis as a sport and must carry out their objects and purposes without unfair discrimination on grounds of colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origin, age, sex or religion.

 “There is no room for prejudice of any kind in sport or in society,” said ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti. “The ITF Board decided to send a strong message to the Tunisian Tennis Federation that this kind of action will not be tolerated by any of our members.

“The Board felt that suspension from Davis Cup, a competition that was founded 113 years ago to encourage better understanding through sport, would provide a good lesson for the Federation and a fitting penalty for their unfortunate action.”

The decision of the ITF Board of Directors is final.

The ITF’s announcement is a welcome and courageous one for three reasons. Firstly, by correctly depicting the Tunisian decision as based upon “prejudice,” it rejects wholesale all the justifications and rationalizations for the boycott of Israel and Israelis advanced by the Arab League Central Boycott Office and its contemporary echo, the anti-Semitic “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement, which portrays the boycott of Israel as the twenty-first century incarnation of the movement to boycott apartheid South Africa.

Secondly, the announcement shifts the costs of a boycott away from the Israelis onto the boycotting countries themselves. Those countries that continue insisting on a boycott of Israeli athletes now have a choice: either drop this primitive bigotry, or accept that through your actions, it is your own professional sports representatives that will be punished.

Lastly, the ITF decision should properly be read as establishing a precedent that can equally apply in other sports. At an international swimming competition in Dubai last month, the Israeli team was grudgingly allowed to participate, but scoreboards at the event, as well as television broadcasts, were banned from mentioning the word “Israel.” Gratifyingly, the success of the Israeli swimmers at the tournament meant that the policy of pretending that the team was not present became untenable.

Nonetheless, there should be consequences to these actions. As well as ejecting boycotting countries from competitions, international sporting authorities should also ban countries that still advocate the boycott of Israel – like Qatar, which will host the 2022 soccer World Cup – from hosting such prestigious events. Thanks to the ITF, that outcome is now one step closer.

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New Olympics Chief an Israel Boycotter

The history of the Olympics movement has long been marred by a persistent strain of anti-Semitism and bias against Israel. But those who thought the unhappy memories of Berlin in 1936 and Munich in 1972 should not influence our opinion of this behemoth of global sport were just sucker-punched by the election of a new head of the International Olympic Committee. German lawyer Thomas Bach won the presidency of the IOC on a second-ballot vote in Buenos Aires yesterday and began his reign over the sports empire by pledging neutrality in the political disputes that are part and parcel of the Olympics landscape. That notion was undermined by the fact that the first congratulatory phone call Bach received was from Russian President Vladimir Putin who is counting on the IOC head to protect the 2014 Sochi Winter Games from being derailed by protests over Russia’s anti-gay laws. But the pious talk about respecting the Olympic Charter and inclusion is also given the lie by a key fact about Bach’s biography.

Though Bach is being touted as a savvy veteran of Olympic legal tangles including leading anti-doping efforts as well as being a former Gold Medal fencer, the German lawyer’s day job is as chairman of Ghorfa, the Arab-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry. That sounds innocuous enough. But rather than just a straight-forward promoter of trade between Germany and the Arab world, as the Times of Israel reports, according to the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin Ramer Institute, Ghorfa was actually set up in the 1970s in order to facilitate the boycott of Israel:

Ghorfa helps German companies ensure that products meet the import requirements of Arab governments, some of which ban products and services from Israel.

The group continues to issue certificates of German origin for trade with Arab countries. Its earlier practice of certificates verifying that no product parts were produced in Israel stopped in the early 1990s when Germany enacted trade regulations forbidding the use of certificates of origin to enable de facto trade boycotts.

Such a record is hardly unusual in the Olympics hierarchy. Bach, who was a strong supporter of his predecessor’s refusal to hold even a moment of silence to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the slaughter of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics at last year’s London Games had strong support from the Arab world in the IOC election.

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The history of the Olympics movement has long been marred by a persistent strain of anti-Semitism and bias against Israel. But those who thought the unhappy memories of Berlin in 1936 and Munich in 1972 should not influence our opinion of this behemoth of global sport were just sucker-punched by the election of a new head of the International Olympic Committee. German lawyer Thomas Bach won the presidency of the IOC on a second-ballot vote in Buenos Aires yesterday and began his reign over the sports empire by pledging neutrality in the political disputes that are part and parcel of the Olympics landscape. That notion was undermined by the fact that the first congratulatory phone call Bach received was from Russian President Vladimir Putin who is counting on the IOC head to protect the 2014 Sochi Winter Games from being derailed by protests over Russia’s anti-gay laws. But the pious talk about respecting the Olympic Charter and inclusion is also given the lie by a key fact about Bach’s biography.

Though Bach is being touted as a savvy veteran of Olympic legal tangles including leading anti-doping efforts as well as being a former Gold Medal fencer, the German lawyer’s day job is as chairman of Ghorfa, the Arab-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry. That sounds innocuous enough. But rather than just a straight-forward promoter of trade between Germany and the Arab world, as the Times of Israel reports, according to the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin Ramer Institute, Ghorfa was actually set up in the 1970s in order to facilitate the boycott of Israel:

Ghorfa helps German companies ensure that products meet the import requirements of Arab governments, some of which ban products and services from Israel.

The group continues to issue certificates of German origin for trade with Arab countries. Its earlier practice of certificates verifying that no product parts were produced in Israel stopped in the early 1990s when Germany enacted trade regulations forbidding the use of certificates of origin to enable de facto trade boycotts.

Such a record is hardly unusual in the Olympics hierarchy. Bach, who was a strong supporter of his predecessor’s refusal to hold even a moment of silence to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the slaughter of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics at last year’s London Games had strong support from the Arab world in the IOC election.

The Olympics has consistently refused to commemorate the Munich massacre largely because of the resistance to any mention of the crime on the part of the movement’s Arab and Muslim countries. But Bach’s role in both boycotting Israel and supporting the IOC’s stonewalling of protests about its failure to have even a moment of silence puts him in the grand tradition of his predecessor Avery Brundage, the head of the movement from 1952-1972.

Brundage, the only American ever to head the IOC, helped prevent a boycott of the 1936 Berlin games and has long been suspected of being behind the U.S. team’s decision to keep the two Jewish athletes on the track team—future broadcaster Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller—from competing. Widely accused of anti-Semitism, he closed his career in sports by responding to terrorism in Munich by stating that the “games must go on.”

Since 1972, the Olympics have kept to that motto, ignoring the crime against Israel even while devoting time at its opening ceremonies to other acts of terrorism, such as last year’s commemoration of the attack on London on July 7, 2005.

In that context, Bach’s role in facilitating the efforts of German companies to boycott the State of Israel makes perfect sense. Far from such credentials serving, as they might were the Olympics a movement that was actually dedicated to the principles of equality and justice as it claims to be, to disqualify the German, his discriminatory practices were seen by many IOC committee members as a virtue.

In the past, the Olympics was a noxious mix of extreme nationalism and fake amateurism. But now that it has shed its façade of opposition to professionalism, it is merely a big business that profits from enormous television contracts. Even though most people only care about these events two weeks out of every four years, the Olympics are more popular than ever and any effort to oppose using it to paint despotic regimes in an attractive light are bound to fail since few viewers or advertisers want details about human rights to interfere with their fun or their profits. That was why any effort to shine a light on Putin’s tyranny will be largely ignored just as similar concerns about China collapsed in 2008.

Bach’s election is just one more reason for people of good will, including those, such as myself, who love sports, to ignore the Olympics. Like the United Nations, whose prejudicial practices it mirrors, the reality of the Olympics has little to do with the high ideals it purports to uphold.

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The Hawking Fallacy: No Compromise With Celebrity Boycotters

The decision of science superstar Stephen Hawking to join in the boycott of Israel was a major coup for those working to delegitimize the Jewish state. Hawking’s reputation as a man of reason and a media magnet gave a boost to a movement whose triumphs to date have been confined to figures dwelling in the fever swamps of the far left or right. While many Western European intellectuals have bought into the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) appeal, Hawking’s celebrity is such that he may help anti-Israel activists gain traction in the United States where they have had little success in getting mainstream attention or support.

But there is another downside to Hawking’s move. Rather than stiffen the resolve of the pro-Israel community to stand up against the economic war against the Jewish state, seeing a big name join the crowd piling on in this fashion has the effect of discouraging some and causing others to rationalize the boycotters. That’s the upshot of a couple of posts on the subject over at the Open Zion blog at the Daily Beast where left-wing columnists saying the right reaction to the boycott is to agree with its supporters that Israel is in the wrong. Rather than to fight a boycott that even some of them will admit is tainted by anti-Semitism, they council surrender to it. Thus, although adding Hawking to the roster of those who hypocritically and wrongly seek to ostracize Israel, perhaps the most important aspect of this is the way it could lead some who ought to know better to make their peace with the boycott instead of treating it as just another instance of Jew-hatred.

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The decision of science superstar Stephen Hawking to join in the boycott of Israel was a major coup for those working to delegitimize the Jewish state. Hawking’s reputation as a man of reason and a media magnet gave a boost to a movement whose triumphs to date have been confined to figures dwelling in the fever swamps of the far left or right. While many Western European intellectuals have bought into the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) appeal, Hawking’s celebrity is such that he may help anti-Israel activists gain traction in the United States where they have had little success in getting mainstream attention or support.

But there is another downside to Hawking’s move. Rather than stiffen the resolve of the pro-Israel community to stand up against the economic war against the Jewish state, seeing a big name join the crowd piling on in this fashion has the effect of discouraging some and causing others to rationalize the boycotters. That’s the upshot of a couple of posts on the subject over at the Open Zion blog at the Daily Beast where left-wing columnists saying the right reaction to the boycott is to agree with its supporters that Israel is in the wrong. Rather than to fight a boycott that even some of them will admit is tainted by anti-Semitism, they council surrender to it. Thus, although adding Hawking to the roster of those who hypocritically and wrongly seek to ostracize Israel, perhaps the most important aspect of this is the way it could lead some who ought to know better to make their peace with the boycott instead of treating it as just another instance of Jew-hatred.

Let’s understand straight off that those, such as Beast columnist Mathew Kalman, who “broke” the story of Hawking’s joining the boycott in Britain’s Guardian, and who believes the scientist can’t be criticized for this move, are wrong.

Kalman took some abuse on the Internet from supporters of Israel when Cambridge University initially denied his report before confirming it. But while he’s entitled have a laugh at the expense of those who called him a liar about this, what he really gets wrong is the nature of this event. Joining the boycott of Israel isn’t a gesture of a disillusioned friend. It’s an action that places someone amid the ranks of those working not to “reform” policies but who deny Israel’s right to exist or to defend itself.

Kalman writes:

What I’d like to know—apart from whether any of my mealy-mouthed Twitter critics are going to retract their insults—is what effect Hawking’s decision will have on Israel’s leaders. Will they hunker down behind a security wall of denial, or will someone, somewhere in Jerusalem ask why a man of Hawking’s standing, who has visited Israel four times in the past and was willing to come again despite his age and ill-health, has become so alienated, so quickly, from a country he previously admired so much?

What’s wrong here is that the BDS movement wishes to deny Israel the same rights of sovereign existence and self-defense that no one would think to deny another people. It singles out democratic Israel for special treatment while ignoring genuine humanitarian crises and horrific tyrannies. There is a word for such treatment and it is prejudice and such bias against Jews is called anti-Semitism, which is something that no one in the Jewish community or decent society should be willing to excuse. Hawkings, like everyone else who buys into the lies about Israel, deserves to be treated as having made common cause with Jew-haters, not a wise man that deserves a hearing.

What’s more, attempts to rationalize Hawking’s position such as Kalman’s is to believe that Israel has done something in recent years that merits pariah status is to ignore everything that has happened in the last 20 years of peace processing whereby Israel has invited the PLO into the West Bank, given up territory, removed settlements, withdrawn from Gaza and made three separate offers of a Palestinian state in 2000, 2001 and 2008, only to be refused each time and answered with more terrorism and intransigence. In order to interpret the events of this period in such a manner as to conclude that Israel must be punished and the Palestinians must be rewarded you have to either be willfully ignorant or prejudiced. In either case, such a conclusion does not exactly measure up to what is generally considered the scientific method of discovering the truth.

Israel isn’t perfect but responsibility for the lack of peace and the continuing plight of the Palestinians rests with their leaders who have refused peace. Until their political culture changes and makes it possible for them to recognize the legitimacy of Israel, no matter where its borders are drawn, the end of the conflict is not in sight.

Agreeing with Kalman is another writer for the Beast, British activist Hannah Weisfeld, who says the proper response to Hawking’s statement, is to agree with him about Israel’s wrongdoing and pressure it to treat the Palestinians better. Weisfeld, who runs a group that seems to be a clone of America’s J Street, takes a fatalistic view about anti-Israel incitement, which she says is the cause célèbre of our time even though human rights violations elsewhere are far more serious. Like her blog’s editor, Peter Beinart, she seems to think the anti-Semitic tone of many BDS supporters doesn’t make the Palestinians any less sympathetic. Weisfeld seems to take the point of view that there’s no use being mad about Hawking or other boycotters. Rather than fight back, she seems to be telling us its time for Israel and its friends to surrender to foreign blackmail.

But the right response to Hawking is not agreement with his prejudicial behavior that would isolate those who are responsible for some of the technology that makes it possible for him to function despite his illness as well as scientists that are working for its cure.

Weisfeld is right that fashionable leftist opinion has rejected Israel but thinking people should answer distortions and lies with truth, not appeasement. Hawking’s fans must accept the fact that he has joined the ranks of the haters and classify him as such. Doing so requires courage that many who dwell in liberal strongholds or in academia lack. But that will not excuse their cowardice if they fail to speak up against this monstrous and fundamentally anti-Semitic movement against Israel.

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