Give Liel a visa

The problem with Tunisia is nothing new: Israeli athletes have long been barred, discriminated against, mistreated and made pariahs in world sporting events.

Chess pieces (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Chess pieces
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Liel Levitan is seven years old, a chess prodigy from Tel Hai in northern Israel who won the Girls U7 category of the European School Individual Chess championship held last month in Krakow. That win makes her eligible for the FIDE World Schools Chess Championship scheduled for next April, only there’s a problem: it’s scheduled to take place in Tunisia, a country that does not allow travelers entering on Israeli passports into the country.
Right now, second-grader Levitan can’t go.
The problem with Tunisia is nothing new: Israeli athletes have long been barred, discriminated against, mistreated and made pariahs in world sporting events. Arab countries have forever refused to display any Israeli identifying symbols, neither displaying the Israeli flag nor playing Israel’s national anthem – if they let the athletes into the country at all. For example:
• In April, the Israeli taekwondo team was barred from Tunisia.
• In December, Israelis were banned from the Rapid and Blitz speed chess world championship in Saudi Arabia. Ironically, Saudi Arabia and FIDE agreed to loosen the dress code for the event and allow women to wear high-necked white blouses rather than a hijab. It also issued visas to chess players from Iran and Qatar, two countries at odds with Riyadh politically.
• Last October, at the Grand Slam judo tournament in the United Arab Emirates, Israeli athletes competed under the flag of the International Judo Federation, and heard the IJF anthem played when they won, leading to the now famous clip of Tal Flicker – who won the gold in the men’s under-145 lbs. category – silently mouthing his own private version of “Hatikvah” during the anthem ceremony.
• At the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics in 2016, the Lebanese national team refused to share a bus with their Israeli counterparts.
• In 2009, Shahar Peer was denied a visa by the United Arab Emirates, preventing her from competing in the World Tennis Association Tour in Dubai. The WTA said it was “deeply disappointed” that Peer was being denied entry to the country hosting the tournament.
That’s what they all say – that the move by the [fill in sport federation here] runs counter to policy, and that no athlete should be barred from any tournament in which he or she is qualified to participate.
But they don’t cancel the tournament.
Nevertheless, something is happening in the sports world, and that bodes well for the world at large. The tide is turning.
In March, Israeli drivers Dani Pearl and Itai Moldavski participated in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge off-road race, the first team from Israel ever to compete in the race, though organizers of the Desert Challenge did not allow the Israeli flag to fly during the competition.
Two weeks ago, the International Judo Federation suspended international competitions in the United Arab Emirates and Tunisia because they offered no guarantees on the equal treatment of Israeli athletes, including the playing of the Israeli national anthem in the event that Israelis would win their respective division.
The Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs started a petition online urging FIDE – the World Chess Federation, governing body of international chess competition – to demand that Tunisia’s governing chess body let Liel and other Israelis participate in Tunisia, to abide by the federation’s rules of fairness and equality.
FIDE earlier this week gave warning to Tunisia: either you issue a visa to this seven-year-old and allow the U7 champion to play in the international chess competition, or you’re not hosting the championship. Within days, the Tunisian Chess Federation issued an official letter stating: “As a sports federation, we will be very proud and honored to receive participants from all over the world and we will ensure hospitality to all without exception.”
A spokesman for StandWithUs called the FIDE’s position and the Tunisian response unprecedented, representing “a breakthrough in the accountability of international sports organizations regarding the mistreatment of Israeli athletes in world sporting events.”
Kol hakovod to StandWithUs for standing up for Israel, and praise to FIDE for the fortitude and sincerity of its convictions; for standing up to the Arab world’s discrimination against Jews and Israel; and for standing by its own code of ethics in which the organization declares that it “attaches the greatest importance to fair play and good sportsmanship.” We welcome other international sports federations to follow suit.