How the WBC endorses a central precept of Zionism
Opinion: By allowing all Jews to play for Israel in the World Baseball Classic, Bud Selig has recognized what Abbas hasn't.
Brad Ausmus Photo: Adam Grossman/Courtesy
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could learn a thing or two from Baseball
Commissioner Bud Selig.
On Wednesday night, the day after Rosh Hashanah,
one of four qualifying rounds of the World Baseball Classic will begin in
The World Baseball Classic (WBC) is the premier
international baseball tournament, now that the sport has been discontinued at
the Olympic games. It has been held twice before, in 2006 and 2009, with Japan
winning both times.
One of those teams playing in Florida is Team Israel,
whose first opponent in a modified round-robin format is South
The victor plays the winner of Spain vs France, then two more
games to advance to the 16-country WBC, along with the winners of the other
three qualifying tournaments being played in Germany, Taiwan and
Eligibility to play on a country’s team is simple, as set down by
Bud Selig and Major League Baseball: any citizen of a country, or anyone
eligible to become a citizen of said country, is entitled to play. That ruling
previously allowed major leaguers Mike Mike Piazza and Nick Punto to play for
Italy, and Andruw Jones to play for the Netherlands .
Every country has
its own parameters for citizenship.
Israel’s requirement, called Hok
Hashvut, or Law of Return, was first established by Knesset law in 1950: anyone
with a Jewish grandparent, the spouse of a Jew, or a convert to Judaism, is
Jewish for the purposes of “returning to Israel.”
Early Zionists debated
whether Israel would be a state of its citizens, or the homeland of the Jewish
The argument was settled with its founding: Israel would be both.
While Israeli citizenship is qualitatively different from Jewish identity, all
you needed was the latter to assume the former.
Jews would get a new (or
additional) passport) when they immigrated to Israel; if they didn’t immigrate,
they and Israel would consider each other part of a global Jewish
But if you are eligible for citizenship according to the rules of
Hok Hashvut – and these are civil parameters, not halachic, closer to the
Nuremberg Laws definition of Who is a Jew than the guidelines of the Torah –
then you are automatically part of the family of Jews.
now that we know who’s eligible, who’s playing? Ahhh, there’s the
There is no professional baseball in Israel. There was a
professional league five years ago, but it died amidst a still-unsolved
financial scandal, after one summer of play.
Nevertheless baseball is
being played in Israel, from five- and six-year-olds taking their hacks in
T-ball up to the National Team, which includes players like 19-year-old Yuli
Tsypin, who emigrated from Kazakhstan when he was four, and 35- year-old Dan
Rotem, a sabra who played college ball in the US.
They tried out in
Florida last week hoping to get picked for Team Israel by the manager, Brad
Ausmus, himself a veteran of 18 major league seasons.
Only Rotem and two
other National Team players made the cut, because Ausmus had a large pool to
choose from: Today there are 65 Jews playing in the major and minor
These include such standouts as Ryan Braun, Kevin Youkilis and
Ian Kinsler, as well as very good players in the minor leagues and in college.
Nabbing just a few of these stars will give Team Israel a strongly competitive
lineup, and the idea of a baseball team representing Israel has already garnered
much publicity and excitement among Jewish fans.
But will it be Israeli?
MLB and its partners, including the Players Association, are putting on this
tournament with one goal in mind: to spread the gospel of baseball. The problem
is, anytime you place the loaded terms “gospel” and “Israel” in the same
sentence, you are guaranteed to raise the wrath of somebody.
American-Israelis deride this squad as not really being “Israeli,” but a team of
American ringers bearing about the same relationship to Israel as a
“kosher-style” deli does to the real thing.
These purists believe that
the term “Israeli” should only apply to someone willing to live and sacrifice
(and bunt, steal, and slide) in Eretz Yisrael.
Then you have the radical
Jewish left, who reject the notion that Jewish and Israel are one and the same,
or that identity with one presumes membership in the other. They don’t believe
Jews are a nation, don’t want anything from Israel representing them, and
Americans who are not Israeli but play for Team Israel is one more example of
how Israel (the apartheid, racist, expansionist, occupying Israel) are just a
bunch of cheaters.
Finally, for those who follow strict halacha, or
Jewish Law, Jews playing for Israel is OK, but neither Braun nor Youkilis should
count, as only their fathers are Jewish.
Hogwash, says Selig: the rules
of eligibility are the same for every country, and each individual nation
defines its own citizenship requirements.
Selig, who is Jewish, doesn’t
care that the American players may not even know where to find Israel on the
map, any more than he would care if the entire team were composed of self-hating
Jews. Israel allows for Jews anywhere to come immigrate and become citizens,
because that’s what Israel, by definition, is about. Selig gets this.
Abbas does not. The Palestinian leader has refused Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu’s request for reciprocity in declaring Israel a Jewish State – as
Netanyahu explicitly accepted a Palestinian State in his speech before Congress
on May 24, 2011.
Indeed, Selig has done something publicly that Abbas
refuses to do: pronounce to the world that Israel is, indeed, the state of the
Jews, the state for the Jews, the Jewish State.
Selig, in fact, went one
step farther, endearing himself to every JFNA fund-raiser: not only is Israel
the Jewish state, but all the Jews of the world are connected to that state. He
took the slogan “We Are One” – the mantra, the reason d’être of every JFNA
appeal, the purpose of Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs – and codified it
in a way never seen before.
So while the Palestinian president may
continue to deny any connection between Jews and the land of Israel, Selig has
already stated the self-evident: all Jews ARE connected. They all play for the
And home field is Israel.