Time was when the conflict with Israel was officially and undisguisedly pan-Arab. In recent decades the tactic has been to present it as arising from the essentially local plight of Palestinians due to seemingly arbitrary out-of-the-blue Israeli occupation. Yet on occasion this deliberate misrepresentation is exposed.
This was the case last week when the Israeli flag was removed from the premises of the FINA Swimming World Cup in the Qatari capital of Doha and when the flag was whitewashed from TV broadcasts.
All this might lead to discouraging conclusions in our midst regarding the bridges Israel assiduously attempts to build with Arab leaders – even those in the ostensibly less fanatic Gulf states. Not too many years ago, Qatar was an Israeli success story, or so it was widely believed in Jerusalem. Relations with Doha, especially trade ties, flourished since the mid-’90s.
To be sure, they were not formal or full, yet they were hardly covert. Everyone knew about them. Unnamed Qatari higher-ups reportedly visited Israel and Shimon Peres, then deputy premier, openly visited Qatar in 2007.
Then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni did the same a year later.
Other Israelis, such as Ehud Barak, hobnobbed with the emir of Qatar.
All this changed long before the latest sports event.
Qatar unilaterally abrogated its ties with Israel after the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead (2009) against Hamas in Gaza.
Doha offered to restore them if Israel allowed unrestricted shipments of building materials to the Strip. Since these can be used to build bunkers, Israel refused for years. Qatar did not change its tune when Israel did recently somewhat relent, or when the massive Hamas-constructed terror tunnel from Gaza was discovered this month.
Last year, Qatar’s emir, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, became the first head of state to pay Gaza an official visit since the 2007 Hamas takeover.
The Qatari transformation is not, however, solely Israelilinked.
Qatar had become the financial sponsor of the misnamed Arab Spring, bankrolling assorted Muslim Brotherhood insurgents and their allies. The upheavals shaking the Arab world – Syria foremost – were in effect to a disconcerting extent orchestrated by Doha and amplified up by its hyperactive Al Jazeera news network.
Increasingly and consistently, Qatar uses its clout and wealth to bring to power and sustain Islamic forces that are fundamentally inimical to the West, to say nothing of their implacable hate for the Jewish state.
Against this background the kerfuffle over the Israeli flag is hardly unexpected.
Israel’s flag was gone the day after it was first flown among the flags of other participating nations outside the Hamad Aquatic Center. Moreover, during races, it was replaced in Qatari news feeds with a white rectangle.
The white blank in lieu of the flag was most glaring when Israel’s Amit Ivry won silver in the women’s 100- meter individual medley (although Israel’s flag was hoisted during the awards ceremony). Some of the events involving Israelis were not aired at all.
At a related event in Dubai, all traces of Israeli presence were expunged. No mention of Israel was allowed either in print or broadcast accounts of the swim meets. Cameras were turned away from Israeli contenders in a number of events.
Arab sports boycotts are nothing new, but nations that host international competitions have a duty to be allinclusive.
As the Anti-Defamation League stressed, “International sporting federations, who have guidelines mandating that all qualifying athletes be permitted to compete, must also now ensure that host countries guarantee that all participants and national teams – regardless of their nationalities – be treated equally, and that their national origin be fully recognized. Organizers of international sporting events cannot permit public opinion to politicize competitions, nor sully competitors.”
Qatar’s indisputable misconduct should by all rights significantly affect plans that it host the ultra-prestigious FIFA 2022 World Cup. Thus far objections are centered on its oppressive summertime heat and there have been isolated murmurs about the infrastructure project, a $45 billion venture, being constructed by exploited migrant workers laboring under slave-like conditions.
To these objections to the Qatar FIFA venue must be added the obvious predisposition to politicization and discrimination evinced at Doha.