Thursday, March 30th | 8 Nisan 5783

February 20, 2023 10:40 am

Israeli Rugby Team Launches Program to Promote ‘Respect and Inclusion’ After South African BDS Campaign


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Members of Tel Aviv Heat lined up before their game against Black Lion as part of the 2022 Rugby Europe Super Cup finals. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

Israel’s national rugby team Tel Aviv Heat announced on Sunday its new program that aims to help it connect with players, clubs and supporters from around the world shortly after the Israeli team was disinvited from an international competition in South Africa.

Contributions to the “Bridges Through Rugby” program will be used to support existing and aspiring rugby players develop their skills while also help further the team’s partnerships with professional clubs, unions and academies around the world, including in South Africa. The program will also support international rugby players who want to live and play in Israel for local clubs and well as those who are seeking eligibility to represent Israel as part of Tel Aviv Heat.

The program will also help fund the team’s “sustained campaign of outreach, goodwill events, editorial content, and legal action to thwart BDS propaganda and threats.”

In a document explaining the new program, Tel Aviv Heat quoted former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela, who said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”

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In August 2022, the South African Rugby Union (SARU) invited Tel Aviv Heat to compete in 2023 Mzansi Challenge — also known as the Currie Cup First Division — starting on March 24 with teams from Kenya, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and six South African provinces. On Feb. 3, SARU rescinded its invitation following pressure and alleged threats from supporters of the South African BDS Coalition.

In explaining its decision, SARU President Mark Alexander, “We have listened to the opinions of important stakeholder groups and have taken this decision to avoid the likelihood of the competition becoming a source of division.”

Tel Aviv Heat includes a number of South Africans and its coach, Kevin Musikanth, was born in South Africa.

The Israel-based International Legal Forum has contacted SARU, demanding that it reverse its decision to disinvite Tel Aviv Heat from the Mzansi Challenge, and South African Friends of Israel have submitted an application asking for SARU to reveal which stakeholders they consulted before axing the Israel team from the competition.

The British group UK Lawyers for Israel has also written to SARU in addition to the World Rugby governing body about its move against Tel Aviv Heat, saying it goes against SARU’s constitution, and a New Zealand-based lawyer filed a legal complaint with World Rugby Council also in regards to SARU’s decision.

Israel’s relations with South Africa has become increasingly strained in recent days after Sharon Bar-Li, Israel’s foreign ministry deputy director general for Africa, was escorted out of the African Union summit that took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Saturday in a move that was hailed by South Africa’s ruling party.

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