By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
There has been a lot of talk about bad sportsmanship after a judo match at the Rio Olympics in which Egyptian athlete Islam el-Shahaby refused to shake the hand of his Israeli opponent Or Sasson. The hand shaking incident came after a Saudi judoka forfeited a match in order to avoid competing against an Israeli. A Lebanese Olympic team refused to share a bus with Israelis, bringing comparisons to apartheid in one oped.
Some have responded that its ridiculous to demand all politics be set aside for the Olympics. Ruby Hamad argues that not only has there been other political displays at the games, but that Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Olympic athletes deserves “pushback.”
But while it is true there are some other political issues at the Olympics, Israel is the only team systematically subjected to discrimination. It took 44 years just to honor the 11 Israeli athletes murdered in 1972 at the Olympics. For years the Olympic Committee rejected commemoration of the victims, claiming ceremonies were not the right “atmosphere” to remember the “tragic incident.” If it had been 11 American athletes or 11 Russians or 11 Congolese, they would have been remembered and it wouldn’t have taken 44 years. Only with Israel is the view that commemoration is controversial.
Why is Israel the only country where it is justifiable based on “politics” to not shake hands and forfeit matches or block them from buses? It is part of the overall pathological hatred for Israel where the country is singled out, above all over countries, for visceral hatred. Let’s say, that you think that Olympic athletes should be judged for their country’s actions. Ok. So why do people shake hands with Saudi Athletes who come from an extremist religious dictatorship that discriminates against women? Why shake hands with Syrian athletes representing the Bashar al-Assad regime that has displaced 11 million people and killed 400,000? Most Syrians can’t compete in the Olympics because they have been forced to become refugees and their cities destroyed. Why is it for years everyone shook the hands of athletes from Iraq, despite Saddam Hussein’s genocide.
Stalin’s athletes were kosher despite the Ukrainian famine. The athletes from the colonial European countries were perfectly fine to receive good sportsmanship. North Koreans? Not a problem. Afghanistan didn’t participate in the 2000 games, but if they had, people would have gladly boarded a bus with the Taliban’s athletes, even if they had just finished practicing in a stadium where women in burkas were shot in the back of the head for “adultery.” Iran’s athletes come to the games after having walked passed the gallows used to hang people. South Africa was banned from the Olympics due to its Apartheid era policies in 1964 (lifted in 1992), but for some reason the Cambodian genocide wasn’t a reason to ban Cambodia. And of course, Khmer Rouge athletes were welcomed.
Of course it seems silly for someone to refuse to shake the hands of a Syrian athlete due to Assad’s barrel bombs. He’s just a runner, a pole vaulter, not complicit in the regimes’ atrocities. Only, only, with Israel are the athletes blamed and treated differently for the country. No one refuses to shake the hands of the Americans over a 15 year military occupation of Afghanistan. Of course not. No one would punish a British athlete just because they were upset over Tony Blair’s Iraq policy.
Algeria’s crimes during the civil war? Not grounds for match forfeiting. Russia’s actions in Ukraine? Not an issue. And of course, no one would punish the Egyptian athlete for the policies of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. That’s ridiculous. How could you blame someone doing judo for his government, people would say. But Israel. Well they should be victimized. There’s a debate about it. Maybe their athletes deserve it. It’s understandable.
And here’s a question. If you are outraged by the treatment meted out to the Israelis by the “bad sportsmanship,” ask yourself why it is that all the other athletes don’t show solidarity with their Israeli peers and refuse to show sportsmanship to the Lebanese, Saudis and Egyptians and others who have thrown away the “Olympic spirit.” Because no athlete will stand with their Israeli peer and demand sportsmanship. Of course not.
It might send a message if every time an athlete from a country refused to shake hands with an Israeli, that all the other athletes in that sport then refused to shake hands with the offender.