I’m proud to be proud. It might not be fashionable. It might not be popular. But I am who I am. A Jewish, Israeli woman. I could live with it just fine, if only I were allowed to do so in peace.
My eyebrows, hackles and pride all rose in turn last week when I read an opinion piece by Uri Avnery in CounterPunch titled, “Ariel Sharon and the Israeli Judokas.” I very rarely agree with something Avnery writes, and the fact that Sharon was invoked in the title was a clue that this wasn’t going to be the exception.
“The scene at Ben-Gurion Airport this week was rather astonishing,” wrote Avnery.
“More than a thousand young male fans came to welcome the two Israeli judo fighters – one female, one male – who had won a bronze medal each at the Olympic Games in Rio.
“It was a very raucous welcome. The crowd went wild, shouted, pushed, raised fists.
“Yet judo is not a very popular sport in Israel... So Israeli crowds suddenly became judo fans (some called it ‘Jewdo’). People who did not go wild with enthusiasm were considered traitors. We did not hear anything about the judo champions who got the gold or silver medals...
“We can only imagine what would have happened if the Israeli Olympic contingent had included Arab athletes. Arabs? In our contingent? “True, Arabs constitute some 20% of the Israeli population, and some are very active in sports. But God – or Allah – saved us from this headache.
None made it to Rio.
“But there is another question that should have drawn attention. Israel is – by its own official definition – a ‘Jewish state.’ It claims to belong to the Jewish people. It considers itself, in a way, the headquarters of ‘world Jewry.’
“So why does no one in Israel take the slightest interest in the medals won by Jews and Jewesses in other national delegations? Where is Jewish solidarity? Where is Jewish pride?
“Well, it simply does not exist where it counts. In the Olympic Games, a highly nationalistic event, nobody in Israel cares about the Diaspora Jews.
“To hell with them.”
There’s more, but I’ll spare you.
Avnery’s diatribe is so twisted, he ties himself in knots. If linguistic contortions were an Olympic sport, Avnery’s score would be impressive.
Yes, Israelis welcomed their medalists – particularly as the country didn’t win any medals at the London Olympics four years ago.
Of course the Games are “highly nationalistic,” as Avnery notes.
That’s the whole point of them.
Friends all over the world took pride in their country’s particular achievements. Jordanians rejoiced in their first medal ever – a gold – in Tae Kwon Do. Incidentally, Ahmad Abuguash, whose grandparents came from the Israeli Arab town of Abu Ghosh just outside Jerusalem, was immediately hailed there as “a local boy” made good. The homecoming parade attended by thousands for Kosovo’s first-ever medalist, judoka Majlinda Kelmendi who won a gold, gained more media attention than the victory itself.
Contrary to what Avnery thinks, judo has been growing in popularity in Israel ever since Yael Arad become the country’s first medalist, winning a silver at Barcelona in 1992, closely followed by Oren Smadja, who won a bronze at the same games. (Smadja was at Rio as the coach of Or Sasson and to witness the success of Yarden Gerbi, this year’s Israeli winners.)
Arik Ze’evi became a media star when he stepped up to the podium for the bronze at Athens in 2004 and managed to maintain his good-guy image even after suffering the most humiliating defeat, falling to Germany’s Dmitri Peters just 43 seconds into his only match in London.
Judoka Sagi Muki, who narrowly missed the bronze last month, competing in two grueling rounds within hours while suffering from slipped discs and recovering from torn ligaments, meets my definition of a good sport.
The image of the Egyptian team member rejecting Sasson’s outstretched hand, let alone the Iranians and others who refused to even compete against Israelis, show the ugly side of the Games.
True there were no Arabs representing Israel in these games. There weren’t any Orthodox Jews either (it’s hard to compete at that level when so many events are held on Shabbat).
But as Jerusalem Post
sports writer Allon Sinai noted in a recent column, 17-year-old boxer Ahmad Shtewe from Nazareth is among those who have set their sights on Tokyo in four years.
The Israeli Paralympic team (full of people who constantly overcome the most incredible challenges) includes Elham Mhamid, the blind Israeli Arab who is captain of the women’s goalball team, and swimmer Iyad Shalabi.
As Avnery notes, Israel does consider itself a “Jewish state.” That’s why it alone was targeted for the terrorist attack in Munich in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed, a tragedy at the personal and national levels, wiping out a cadre of people who should have continued training future generations.
I haven’t noticed Avnery and his ever-shrinking circle of hard-leftist friends complain that Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mauritania and Gambia all define themselves as Islamic republics; that the Saudi flag features the Muslim statement of faith; or, for that matter, that the British monarch has to be, by definition, head of the Church of England.
To hell with Diaspora Jews? What rot! They’re invited to the Maccabiah (dubbed “the Jewish Olympics”) every four years. Mark Spitz won my heart along with seven gold medals at Munich in a way that Michael Phelps couldn’t, and Israelis en masse adopted Aly Raisman at London.
AVNERY NOTES that he recently received flak for a piece he wrote in Haaretz
about Israeli youth who have emigrated, particularly to Germany, and “asked the emigrants politely to come back and take part in the struggle ‘to save Israel from itself.’” It’s a common theme lately among what’s left of the far Left.
Only they know what is best.
Democracy is their creed, but they refuse to accept that the country can vote for parties other than their own favorites.
People who did not go wild with enthusiasm at our – modest – success were not considered traitors, as Avnery put it. But people whose idea of victory is belittling everything about the country are losing ground.
The refusal to see anything good in Israel is a form of racism.
The dismissal of anything that doesn’t comply exactly with your own view is elitist.
Holding Israel to different – impossibly high – standards is bigoted and wrong.
Gerbi, meantime, auctioned off her signed name patch from Rio for an impressive $52,100. The money will be donated to benefit the children’s oncology ward at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv.
“The medal is for all of Israel, for everyone who supported me and cheered me on,” she said after her victory. “Whoever said you can’t succeed in Israel is wrong.”
I wish our Paralympic team every success in Rio this month.
There’s a place for pride; there’s room for improvement; but there’s no place like home. There’s no need to be ashamed to say firstname.lastname@example.org