Antisemitic swimming

Malaysia’s Deputy Sports Minister Sim Hee Kyung reportedly said that the decision was “a means to protest against the continuous Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.”

January 20, 2019 10:52
3 minute read.
Antisemitic swimming

A mosque is silhouetted against city buildings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, January 27, 2016.. (photo credit: OLIVIA HARRIS/ REUTERS)


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In typical antisemitic fashion, Malaysia has imposed a ban on Israeli athletes from participating in the World Para Swimming Championships the Southeast Asian nation is scheduled to host this coming July.

The decision followed a Malaysian cabinet meeting last week during which the ministers agreed that no Israelis would be allowed into the Muslim country.

“Even if we have already committed to hosting an event, they will not be allowed,” Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said on Wednesday.

Malaysia’s Deputy Sports Minister Sim Hee Kyung reportedly said that the decision was “a means to protest against the continuous Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.”

Malaysia’s decision is not surprising. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s has a long history of antisemitic and virulently anti-Israel comments. One example was his “Jews rule the world by proxy” comment he posted on a blog in 2012. Just this past October he described Jews as “hook-nosed” in an interview with BBC.

Discrimination of Israeli athletes is sadly something we have seen before. Israelis are often treated like no other nation. They are forced to hide their nationality; do not get “Hatikva” played when an Israeli athlete wins a gold medal; and do not have their flag raised like that of other nations at international sporting events.

It is time to put an end to allowing sporting events to be held hostage by Arab and Islamic countries. In July, the International Judo Federation canceled two tournaments – the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and the Tunis Grand Prix – due to restrictions that were unfairly placed on Israelis. Those restrictions were ultimately lifted, and one Israeli judoka went on to win a gold medal.

The same needs to happen here. Swimmers from some 70 countries are expected to compete at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships in Malaysia. If Israeli athletes are not allowed to compete, then no one should.

Malaysia’s decision does not stem from a desire to make the world a better place. It is about alienating Israel. This is an opportunity for the world to declare unequivocally that it will not allow discrimination against the only Jewish country in the world.

Sadly, the response so far from International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has been weak. On Monday, AFP quoted the IPC as saying that it was “disappointed” with Malaysia’s decision to bar Israeli swimmers from entering the country and that it hoped to find a solution to the matter.

“While we continue dialogue with the Local Organizing Committee and the National Paralympic Committee, the IPC Governing Board will be discussing this matter at its meeting in London next week,” the IPC said in a statement. “World Championships should be open to all eligible nations and athletes. We will explore all options open to us to try and ensure the full participation of all eligible athletes.”

We do not understand what the IPC needs to wait a week to “discuss” and have a “dialogue” about. When facing an act of antisemitism and discrimination, the solution is a simple one and should be implemented as soon as possible: the IPC should rescind its decision to hold the tournament in Malaysia, choose another venue, and then – in response to the Malaysian decision against Israeli athletes – impose punitive sanctions on Malaysia, including the banning and even expulsion of the country from future tournaments.

Such a decision will send a clear message to other countries that might, on the one hand, want to host sporting events, but on the other hand not allow Israelis inside their borders. This is the policy for multinational organizations like the World Trade Organization, which a few years ago, for example, held its annual gathering in Indonesia, which – to host the event – had no choice but to allow Israeli government officials to attend.

As its mission statement reads, the IPC was established 30 years ago to allow disabled athletes to “achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world.” What Malaysia is doing is the exact opposite of inspiring or exciting the world. Letting it get away with blatant antisemitism undermines the IPC and the purpose for which it was established. Take action now, IPC, before it is too late.

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