A protester and member of South Africa's ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF), carries a placard outside the Israeli embassy in Pretoria, South Africa.
(photo credit: SIPHIWE SIBEKO/REUTERS)
South African Sports and Recreation Minister Thulas Nxesi has decided to boycott the Davis Cup tie between Israel and South Africa in Pretoria Friday and Saturday.
In an open letter, Nxesi said he “would actually have loved to attend the Davis Cup. But given the concerns that activists and fellow South Africans are raising regarding the presence of an Israeli team, I believe that it would not be proper for me to attend.”
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Nxesi was responding to a letter sent to him by anti-Israel groups that include BDS South Africa and SA Jews for a Free Palestine. The groups, in their letter to the minister, appealed to him not to attend and allegedly suggested that the tie be called off.
“International solidarity and the boycott against Apartheid South Africa played a big role in our liberation,” the sports minister wrote. “Indeed, one of the most well-known slogans came out of that context – ‘no normal sport with an abnormal regime!’”
“South Africa’s own Human Sciences Research Council, in 2009, produced a report documenting how Israel is practicing apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” he said.
“I myself have experienced Israeli discrimination and occupation when I was denied entry to Palestine in 2012,” Nxesi said. “In response to this and other practices by the Israeli regime against the Palestinians, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and many other notable South Africans have called on the world to support the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”
“This call for BDS is increasingly supported by progressive Jewish Israelis who remind us of our own icon, Comrade Joe Slovo, who, while he was Jewish, dissociated himself from the practices of the Israeli regime,” he added.
Tennis South Africa (TSA) made it clear that although the event had “evoked a variety of views, from different groups within our society,” the tie would go on as planned.
“TSA along with 200 other countries globally, is an affiliate of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and participates in the Davis Cup – the World Cup of Tennis – on an annual basis,” the tennis body said. “One of the ITF’s key objectives for this competition is to grow the sport of tennis, and to do so without discrimination on the grounds of color, race, nationality, ethnic or national origin, age, sex or religion. The ITF believes that sport should be used as a unifying element between athletes and nations.”
It highlighted that the “ITF’s flagship competitions, [the] Davis Cup... and Fed Cup [sponsored] by BNP Paribas, were founded on the idea of fostering greater understanding among nations through tennis, a principle that is as valid today as it was over 100 years ago.”
The TSA added that it fully supports the guiding principles of both the ITF and the Davis Cup.
BDS South Africa, together with several anti-Israel organizations, has planned a picket outside the match venue on Friday.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union, South Africa’s largest public-sector union, welcomed the sports minister decision and called on South Africans to join the scheduled protest.
“Palestinians... provided us with military training and other resources during the 1980’s in the fight against apartheid,” it said. “They were our friends then and they remain our friends even now. Israel supplied weapons to the apartheid regime to kill our people; they were our enemy then and they remain our enemy now.”
The Davis Cup is considered to be the world cup of tennis. Israel’s team, who will be taking part in the tie against South Africa, includes veteran players Dudi Sela and Jonathan Erlich as well as Edan Leshem, Igor Smilansky and Daniel Cukierman. Harel Levy will captain the team.