The Last Word: Israel should boycott the Olympics opening ceremony

A state that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust should make concern for human rights a top priority.

jeremy last 88 (photo credit:)
jeremy last 88
(photo credit: )
At 8 p.m. on Friday, Beijing time, President Shimon Peres will settle into his seat along with dozens of other world leaders, ready to witness the opening ceremony of the 2008 summer Olympic Games. As the event gets into gear, athletes representing each of the 200-plus countries competing at the Games will file into the newly built 91,000-seat stadium, affectionately known as the Bird's Nest. Israeli fans around the world will be waiting with anticipation and pride for Team Israel to enter the arena. It will be a moment of joy, when the preparation for the Games finally ends and the Israeli sportsmen, led by veteran kayaker Michael Kolganov, walk around the stadium's running track. But while there will be a sense of happiness and accomplishment for most of those involved, even before a ball has been struck or a judo bout fought, there will also be a feeling that all this is just not right. The decision by the International Olympic Committee to award the Games to Beijing has been widely criticized, in the most part due to China's poor human rights record and its obscene pollution problems, especially in Beijing itself. Those who have spoken out and continue to speak out against the Chinese and the IOC for its decision believe it was a big mistake to reward the communist one-party state with the privilege of hosting the Olympics. And they are correct. The Games should never have been given to China, even if the government promised to use the opportunity to improve its human rights record. Seven years down the line, according to many human rights NGOs such as Amnesty International, little has been done to change the situation. The fact is, China is a country with no real democracy, which enforces the will of the ruling leadership on a practically helpless public. The stories of the hundreds of Beijing residents who were forced to move out of their homes to make way for the construction of the various stadia and arenas for the Olympics send a chill down one's spine. That some of these residents were imprisoned for up to five years after they tried to protest the forced moves is even scarier. Israel is a state that rose out of the ashes of the Holocaust, a country which should always make concern for human rights a top priority. As such the Israeli leadership should make its voice heard on this issue. Unfortunately, the Games will go ahead in China, protests or no protests. There was little chance the IOC would reverse its decision, despite the chilling tales of the violence against pro-Tibet protesters earlier this year. The issue of pollution and the way the Chinese tried to cover it up by closing numerous factories just for the duration of the Games is also extremely problematic. The People's Republic should have been pressed to deal with the problem at its core many years ago rather than just trying to curtain it off for a few weeks and allowing it to return once the Games are over. For the vast majority of athletes, including the 43 Israelis competing, the Olympic Games are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prove themselves on the greatest sporting stage in the world. Therefore, to boycott the entire 16-day event would be going too far and would punish the hopeful sportsmen for the crimes of others. In fact we at The Jerusalem Post have no qualms covering the Games and are proud to have our own reporter, Allon Sinai, in Beijing to report on the events as they unfold. However, Israel should make a stand. Boycotting the opening ceremony would send a message to the world that Israel does not accept that China was the correct country to host the Games. If the Israeli team were absent from the opening ceremony, questions would be asked and the stand would be taken. Peres will be in the country for four days, and his schedule includes meetings with local media and leaders as well as attending a reception hosted by Hu Jintao, the president of the People's Republic of China. It is unlikely Peres will use this chance to press Jintao on the problems of human rights violations in China, but if he and the team boycotted the opening ceremony, at least the issue would be forced onto the table. jeremylast@gmail.com