Photo Credit: youtube
seven-year-old Liel Levitan from Haifa

{Originally posted to the Tower Magazine website}

Israel is subjected to an unprecedented discrimination campaign in the international sports industry, according to Joshua S. Block, President and CEO of The Israel Project.

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Block was referring to the case of seven-year-old Liel Levitan from Haifa, who recently won the European Chess Championship. “For the ‘crime’ of being Israeli, the little girl is prohibited from playing in the World Chess Championship, because host nation Tunisia will not allow Israelis to compete,” Block said. “If that’s not racism, what is?”

He also cited previous incidents of “horrific acts of discrimination” against Israeli athletes, including the World Chess Championship in Saudi Arabia in December from which Israel’s players were excluded because of their nationality, as well as the refusal of the Lebanese national team to share a bus with their Israeli counterparts during the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Block contrasted these vile acts of discrimination against the inclusive atmosphere at the World Lacrosse Championship, which took place in Netanya earlier this month.

“In a vibrant festival of sport, 46 teams from all over the world competed against each other across ethnic, religious, and cultural divides,” Block overserved. “Sports are a team-building exercise. They’re meant to bring strangers together in a celebration of healthy competition — and that’s exactly what happened in Netanya during the lacrosse event.”

He also praised the decision of the Iroquois Nationals, a group of indigenous people from Canada, to defy pressure from the boycotts movement and compete in the tournament in Israel.

“Israel’s efforts to bring people together under the umbrella of lacrosse stands in stark contrast to the politicization of sports as an instrument in foreign policy — a spill-over effect from other arenas in which actors hostile to Israel seek to delegitimize the Jewish state,” Block explained. However, the Iroquois team has rejected the “ideology of exclusion,” he observed.

Last week, the International Judo Federation revoked the right of Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates to host international tournaments for their past discrimination. “Fortunately — not just for Israel, but anyone who understands the spirit of sport — there’s a growing awareness that using sport as a tool for discrimination is not just morally reprehensible but also undermines the very meaning of sport itself.”

Block added that “there are indications that times are slowly changing,” citing the case of Israeli race drivers Dani Pearl and Itai Moldavski, who were the first ever invited to participate in the five-day Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge earlier this year.

Block concluded by praising Israel’s strong performance in the international sporting world, including the match last Sunday in which the Israeli under-20 basketball team beat Croatia for the FIBA European Championship. “Although Israel may be facing challenges in being accepted internationally in sports, that hasn’t stopped the Jewish state from developing an impressive international profile,” he observed.

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