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February 14, 2019 7:24 am

‘Human Rights’ Organizations Bash Israel, While Sports Organizations Defend It

avatar by David Gerstman


An anti-Israel protest held by Amnesty International members in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 13, 2009.

In recent weeks, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the United Nations Human Rights Council have all been in the news. All three have been promoting, in one way or another, the isolation of Israel on the international scene.

At the end of last month, Amnesty International launched a campaign to intimidate companies that promote travel to Israel to stop doing so. The campaign targeted companies such as Trip Advisor and Airbnb, accusing them of encouraging “war crimes” by driving tourism to what Amnesty called “illegal settlements” and “occupied Palestinian land.”

Not only did Amnesty’s campaign specifically target Israel, but it also denied the historical Jewish connection to the land of Israel. According to NGO Monitor, the Amnesty campaign mentioned that the three most visited sites in Jerusalem are in the Old City. Only by reading a footnote does the reader learn that those sites are the Western Wall, the Jewish Quarter, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The ACLU, meanwhile, has been campaigning against the Combating BDS Act, which passed the US Senate last week. But as legal professor Eugene Kontorovich pointed out, by opposing anti-BDS laws, the ACLU is undercutting past work that it has done in fighting discrimination. The rights group is now fighting to make it easier to discriminate against Israel by excusing those who single out the Jewish state alone for a boycott.

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At the same time, the UN Human Rights Council is once again set to single out Israel with a series of condemnations later this month, including seven reports accusing Israel of war crimes in its response to the violent Hamas-led riots at its border with Gaza. Comparatively, there are no reports critical of China, Cuba, or Turkey, and only two reports each are expected on Iran and Syria. Reports about Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Tunisia are also anticipated.

Oddly, the rights organizations that are singling out Israel for condemnation or isolation could learn a thing or two from the world of sports.

Last month, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) stripped Malaysia of its hosting rights for the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships after the Asian nation said that it would not allow Israeli athletes to participate.

“All World Championships must be open to all eligible athletes and nations to compete safely and free from discrimination,” IPC President Andrew Parson said in a statement explaining the decision. “When a host country excludes athletes from a particular nation, for political reasons, then we have absolutely no alternative but to look for a new Championships host.”

A few days later, a Polish swimming champion who had been hired to train Malaysia’s swimming team backed out of his commitment.

“Among other personal reasons, I declined that function due to recent statements made by Malaysian politicians regarding refusal of visa for athletes that are supposed to compete at the World Championships organized by that country,” Bartosz (Bart) Kizierowski wrote on his Facebook page, explaining why he turned down the “attractive” offer. “There is no place for that in sport.”

As he visited the Jewish state in January, the head of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), Arkady Dvorkovich, reiterated his support for the right of Israeli players to participate in all tournaments.

A month earlier, the federation had relocated a tournament from Saudi Arabia to St. Petersburg after the Saudis refused to grant visas to Israeli players. The FIDE released a statement explaining that it “rejects discriminatory treatment for national, political, racial, social, or religious reasons or on account of gender.” The federation also made clear that its bylaws stipulate that only countries offering free access to all would be eligible to host tournaments.

In 2017, the United Arab Emirates refused to allow Israeli judokas to participate under their own flag or to play Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikva,” when an Israeli won. A year later, the UAE relented on both issues after being pressured by the International Judo Federation. That year, Israeli athlete Sagi Muki won the gold in his weight division, wearing his national uniform, and when he received his medal, “Hatikva” was played in the UAE for the first time. And perhaps more significantly, an Israeli minister was invited to attend the tournament.

The lesson from the sporting world is simple — singling out Israel is bigotry. The lesson from the judo example is that when people stand up to that bigotry, it can lead to breakthroughs that no one ever imagined.

It’s bad enough that rights organizations are singling out Israel, but the situation is made worse, because by doing so, they are letting the worst violators off the hook and failing in their real mission. If they’d take a lesson from the world of sports, maybe they could once again give “human rights” a good name.

David Gerstman is currently senior editor of The Tower, the news blog of The Israel Project.

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