Israeli Apartheid and the Olympics

The below translation is by Sol Salbe of the Middle East News Service, Melbourne, Australia.

Who will not be there at the Olympics?

Yoav Borowitz

20 July 2012 02.00

In exactly a week the world’s eyes will be on the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, one of those spectacular and dramatic events produced every four years. The State of Israel will be well representedl at the ceremony and the games themselves, with a delegation of 38 athletes – the country’s largest ever representation. The delegation is a shining example of gender equality: 20 men and 18 women. The number of sports in which Israeli athletes will participate (12), and their range, is quite impressive.

However, very large community will not be part of this celebration, a community that in effect has not been part of the Olympic celebration for eight consecutive Olympics. Zero Arab athletes represent Israel in London. Zero, even though the Arabs in Israel number 1.67 million people, approximately 20.5 per cent of the population. In all of its years of existence Israel has been represented by 338 athletes in 19 different Olympics. But only two Arab-Israelis have been privileged to participate in Olympic delegations – soccer star Rifat Turk (Montreal, 1976) and weightlifter Edward Maron (Rome, 1960).

This topic has never come up on the public agenda in Israel. Sports ministers have never said a word about it, nor have the heads of national Olympic Committee, or even the media or elected officials ever uttered a word about it. Amazingly, no one can even recall Arab Israelis raising the issue, as if they expect to be excluded from official delegations that represent the state.

Sport is indeed the closest thing to meritocracy only one’s ability counts. Had there been a good enough Arab athlete meeting the Israeli and international criteria, she or he would certainly be representing Israel in London. But it is clear that the absence of such an such athlete is not indicative of the lack of talent or the zeal to train hard within the Arab community as far as sport is concerned. The root of the problem is that there are no facilities, coaches or infrastructure for almost any sport in any Arab village or town. The only area in which little money, and a lot of goodwill, is invested is soccer. So today 15 per cent of Premier League footballers are Israeli Arabs.

But in no other sport, and there are dozens of wonderful and important sports, most of which are represented in the Olympics, is there a prominent Arab athlete. The Ministry of Sports admits that only about 11 million out of about 128 million shekels in the sports budget is invested in the Arab sector. As if to prove the point, they add that under the incumbent Minister, Limor Livnat, the figure has actually improved considerably. Until two years ago the amount invested in the Arab sector was only 6 million shekels a year.

It seems as if this discrimination does not disturb the country’s sports officials, or the Israeli public in general. And perhaps rightly so: there is nothing like so great international event to accurately reflect the reality of life and the state’s real priorities.

Yoav Borowitz is a Haaretz sports writer.

Hebrew original:

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