Sunday, April 16, 2006

Anti-Zionism, discrimination, and moral cowardice in soccer

It is well known that when the 1936 Olympics were held in Berlin, some Jewish athletes on the US track team were kept out of competition to avoid offending the host country. (Other excuses were offered, and there may even have been a mixture of motives, but that was definitely one of them. Similarly, in the pre-1960s US, it was generally considered polite as well as prudent for groups of all sorts visiting the South to observe the proprieties of Jim Crow.) One might have thought that this conception of sports etiquette was no longer considered morally appropriate. Not exactly, as this article from the Guardian demonstrates:
West Ham United yesterday denied claims of mistreating their two Israeli players, Yossi Benayoun and Yaniv Katan, who did not take part in the team's training camp in Dubai last week. The Israeli pair were sent to Marbella in Spain with their families while the rest of the squad were in the Persian Gulf emirate. Katan said yesterday that he had a good time in Spain and added: "Sometimes the best thing is not to react," when asked about his feeling at being left behind.

Israeli citizens are not allowed into the United Arab Emirates and are advised by the Israeli Foreign Office not to travel there. Katan joined West Ham in January and has so far started only once in the league. Benayoun, who arrived last summer, is a regular in the starting line-up and is considered a key player. He was substituted during Sunday's 4-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and looked unhappy with the decision of his manager Alan Pardew.

Many West Ham supporters questioned on a fans' internet site the wisdom of having a camp in a country with a discrimination policy and with two players not attending. Paul Aldridge, the club's managing director, said: "The trip to Dubai has been planned in principal from very early in the season. Once a date was agreed for the trip we discussed the destination with Yossi and Yaniv and, although they did not wish to travel with the squad, they were insistent that the plans were not altered. [....]

"We all believe that this trip will be an excellent springboard for the important games that are coming up before the end of the season and a further chance for the squad to bond before the start of next seasons campaign."

Dubai is a popular destination for football teams' camps and in many cases the trips are funded by local businessmen, who hope that wealthy footballers will buy assets there.
[You can read the whole article here.]

The surprise here is not that Dubai (the allegedly progressive, forward-looking, and "moderate" Gulf mini-state we have been hearing about so much lately) refuses to allow Israelis to enter the country. That's nothing new. The astonishing thing is that this British soccer club should have accepted the invitation to hold their training camp in Dubai under such conditions. What is also astonishing--but not surprising--is that the world soccer organization (FIFA), currently engaged in a campaign against racial, ethnic, and national bigotry in soccer under the general banner of "Kick Racism Out of Soccer," has not made a peep about this affair. On the other hand, FIFA did find it necessary to publicly condemn Israel for shelling a soccer field in Gaza from which rockets had been launched against Israel--I'm not making this up.

The most illuminating story here is not so much about Arab rejectionism and demonization of Israelis (old news) but about western anti-Zionism and the double standards, toleration of bigotry, and overall moral corruption it promotes.

--Jeff Weintraub

[P.S. There is a lot more to the FIFA story, which (as usual) is both astonishing and unsurprising. For more on this FIFA lunacy, its larger context, and its significance, see the characteristically thorough and perceptive account by Tom Gross, "Football Killing Fields".]