January 29, 2024 | The Messenger

Don’t Punish Israeli Athletes for Receiving Death Threats

January 29, 2024 | The Messenger

Don’t Punish Israeli Athletes for Receiving Death Threats

Instead of protecting Israeli athletes facing threats of violence, some sporting bodies have rewarded terrorism by banning Israeli competitors, often while insisting the exclusion is for the athletes’ own good. But this is just a pretext for avoiding the responsibility to ensure that all competitors can participate safely. Anything less is giving in to the terrorists.

Last Tuesday, the Royal Dutch Mountaineering and Climbing Club (NKBV) announced it was barring an Israeli climber for her safety, “the safety of the other competitors, our team, and the visitors.” This singling out of Israeli athletes is unacceptable. If there is a credible threat of violence, then shut down the entire event.

The 1972 massacre at the Munich Olympics demonstrated that the security of Israeli athletes and coaches can never be taken for granted. In that tragedy, eight Palestinian terrorists climbed the walls to the Olympic Village, murdered two Israelis and took nine others hostage, later killing them, too. Yet that is no excuse for banning Israelis today — rather, it is an argument for adequate protection.

Unfortunately, the NKBV is not the only sporting body to exclude Israelis, supposedly for their own good. On January 10, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) “decided to restrict the Israeli National Team from participating” in a tournament in Bulgaria due to concerns for their security and the security of other participants. The U.S. National Hockey League expressed concern over the decision and asked for clarification. The IIHF then rescinded its decision just before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was set to hear the case at Israel’s request. It appears that pressure helped convince the IIHF to reverse course.

The discrimination against Israelis has extended to competitors who are Jewish not Israeli, just as anti-Zionism perennially bleeds into antisemitism. Anti-Israel demonstrators began targeting David Teeger, the captain of South Africa’s under-19 cricket team, after he praised the soldiers defending Israel. Rushing to blame the victim, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee launched an investigation into Teeger for possible hate speech. The South African cricket team ultimately decided it was in the “best interests” of the team and Teeger himself to relieve the Jewish cricket player of his captaincy, giving his tormentors what they wanted.

In mid-January, an Israeli footballer who drew attention to Hamas’s 10/7 massacre was sacked by his Turkish club and arrested by Turkish authorities for “instigating hatred and enmity among the public.” This was antisemitism, plain and simple, but at least Ankara did not pretend it was an act of benevolence.

Before October, discrimination against Israeli and Jewish athletes tended to follow the Turkish model. In 2013, the UAE and Qatar hosted swimming tournaments in which they refused to display the Israeli flag or play Israel’s national anthem. World Aquatics threatened the countries, which have since halted this discrimination. Iran has forced its athletes to lose or get disqualified to avoid competing against Israelis. This led the International Judo Federation to ban the Iranian federation in late 2019, a punishment that was reduced because of CAS arbitration.

Soccer bodies, meanwhile, have set an example for ensuring fair play and eliminating discrimination. Indonesia was slated to host the U-20 World Cup in 2023, but FIFA moved the games to Argentina because of Jakarta’s inability to commit to allowing the Israeli team to compete. The city of Ghent, Belgium, decided that the game between its hometown team and Israel’s Maccabi Haifa in February of this year will be played in an empty stadium due to security concerns. Should the match be disrupted for more than 30 minutes, Europe’s soccer association, UEFA, will penalize the Belgian team with a forfeit. The prospect of penalties seems to have convinced the Belgians to take determined measures to ensure the safety of the players and the integrity of the game.

Protecting athletes should be a top concern for sporting bodies, but it must entail actual protection, not become an excuse for excluding Israelis or Jews. Preventing them from competing is still a boycott even if it is ostensibly meant to protect them. Banning them punishes the targets of violent threats and hands Hamas and other terrorist groups a major win. Anti-discrimination pressure and creative security solutions are needed to ensure sporting bodies uphold their obligations to fair play and not capitulate to anti-Israel bloodlust.

David May is a research manager and senior research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington, D.C.-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. Follow David on X, formerly known as Twitter, @DavidSamuelMay. Follow FDD on X @FDD.