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Case for Israel sports ban

Letter printed in
The Herald (Scotland),
20th August 2002


You rightly support the FIFA banning of Yugoslavia from footballing competition due to the war crimes she was found guilty of committing (Leader, Wrong tactics on Israel match, 17th August). Therefore, while you abhor the ethnic cleansing planned and perpetrated by this band of people, it is strange you see no parallel with the actions committed by the Israeli government against Palestinian citizens.

Israel has been in illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967. This is not due to some defensive strategy against terrorism, as settlement building pre-dates this. If we wish to talk about war crimes on the parallel of Yugoslavia we have a host of examples, the massacres of the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps being only two. The current Prime Minister of Israel was held “personally responsible” for these crimes by an Israeli formed commission.

Sharon’s Likud Party recently voted never to accept a Palestinian state west of the River Jordan. Pro-Israeli supporters such as Republican leader of the House of Representatives, Richard Armey openly talk of the “transfer” (ethnic cleansing if we want to call a spade a spade) of Palestinians from the West Bank as a solution to the conflict.

With all this in mind, I view with scepticism your call to leave matters of boycotts to the international community. Thus far, this community has failed to act decisively in any way for the victims of Israeli atrocities. Millions of refugees have been living in Bantustans for generations. After the recent Jenin atrocity, the UN was unfortunately proved unable to act decisively with the Israeli refusal to allow an investigation team to enter territory that isn’t even theirs.

We cannot just follow America’s lead and take action against whoever seems to be the “baddy of the month”. International justice is wider than whatever seems to be colouring the US national interest at any given time. Pressure came from the grassroots to boycott South Africa under apartheid. The powers at FIFA, and other global bodies did not just develop a conscience by themselves. Similarly, the pressure will have to be brought to bear to boycott Israeli goods until its racist and inhumane policies are dropped.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Zakariyya Abdel-Hady

President, MAB (Scotland)


The letter was a response to a leading article in The Herald:

Wrong tactics on Israel match

Leading article,
The Herald,
17th August 2002


SPORT, especially football, exerts a huge influence. The World Cup in Japan and South Korea proved the point. It is very difficult to keep politics out of sport when it is so powerful and pervasive. The connection between the two is relatively recent. Hitler planned the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a showcase for Aryan supremacy. Jesse Owen, the black American athlete, made sure he failed. Participation had a more powerful impact than a boycott. The United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics because of the USSR's involvement in Afghanistan. Here, the games are remembered more for Allan Wells's gold medal than America's boycott. Politicising sport can, however, be justified and effective. The anti-apartheid campaigners who demonstrated against South Africa's Springboks in the 1960s made sure that, in sporting terms, the country became a pariah state. Sport was part of the problem because the regime tried unsuccessfully to use it to justify and bolster apartheid. More recently, Fifa and Uefa, football's governing bodies, properly banned Yugoslavia and its club sides for Balkan war atrocities.

The pro-Palestinian campaigners who want Israel's under-21 football team banned from playing in Scotland in Hamilton next month are on less firm ground. Although Ariel Sharon's government has behaved no better than the terrorists it seeks to destroy, Israel is a legitimate state and a member of the international community. Despite failing to act decisively so far, it is for the international community to respond when he behaves badly. Israel competed to qualify for the recent World Cup. So, equally legitimately, did Iraq, a country with whom we might soon be waging war, however improbably, to overthrow its vile dictator. So did Saudi Arabia and China, countries with appalling human rights records. If sport is to be politicised to the extent demanded by the pro-Palestinian protesters we need to be consistent. There are plenty of other regimes to stat with. In this case, sport should be kept out of politics.