What’s wrong with banning Israeli athletes?

What’s wrong with banning Israeli athletes?
By Zan Azlee

Many Malaysians are very worked up and angry with the fact that the government has banned Israeli athletes from coming into the country to compete in any tournaments or competitions here. This is, of course, due to the recent announcement regarding the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships happening in Sarawak this July.

The ones who are angry with the government’s decisions are arguing that, although we do not agree with the Israeli government’s foreign policy, especially with Palestine, we should not be mixing politics and sports. By doing so, they argue that Malaysia is being racist and unsportsmanlike.

This is going to take many of my readers by surprise, including my own wife, but I am in support of the ban. I support the ban because I think that we can never truly separate politics from anything in life. It is just a matter of prioritising issues, seeing the bigger picture and making the best decision.

We are definitely not against the Israeli athletes or even the Israeli people. It is the Israeli government and its policies that we are against.

A ban like this it will bring attention to the fact that Malaysia will stick firm on its stand against it and the atrocities that it has and continues to commit.

What are the policies that the Israeli government have and the atrocities that they have committed?

How about their blatant refusal of acknowledging the autonomy of Palestine and the Palestinian, how they bulldoze and bully their way around the middle-east and everywhere, and their all-round anti-Islam policies? It’s nothing that no one knows.

It provides the best international platform for us to highlight the issues of why we are taking this stand. And let’s face it, international sports events have always been a popular avenue to highlight important issues in order to create awareness due to the wide attention they receive.

Remember how the American sprinters protested racism at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico? When the 1936 Olympics was held in Nazi Berlin, Spain, Soviet Union and Turkey boycotted it. Many individual athletes from countries like France and the United States also boycotted the games because they took a stand.

Malaysia boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. That was even when our national football team had qualified for the Olympics for the first time. We were upset, but we knew that protesting against an unjust war (Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan) was more important.

A collective effort

As it is, due to this recent ban, Malaysian representatives have already had many opportunities to talk about the government’s objection to Israeli policies and the atrocities they have committed. Our Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed has had the opportunity to talk about it and so has our Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq and Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

Do not also forget about South Africa under apartheid. It took a huge concerted effort by the entire international community on every aspect from trade and finance to sports and culture in order to put successful pressure on the South African government. Malaysia played a major role in the movement.

However, I do not agree when Malaysians call for boycotts of establishments like McDonald’s and Starbucks within the country. These boycotts will not affect anything because are franchises that are essentially owned by Malaysians who have employees who are Malaysians. Boycotts of these establishments only hurt our own people.

Unfortunately, the efforts to protest the Israeli government isn’t as popular as the protests that have happened against Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa because Israel has the support of some of the strongest and most influential governments in the world.

For efforts like this to be a success, it needs to be huge and needs to have the support of the entire international community. And even though this isn’t happening at the moment, I am still glad that we have a government that is standing firm and will not back down under the pressure of more ‘influential’ governments.

Now if only our government can also stop dealing in trade and finance with Israel by proxy. Huh!

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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