How the WBC endorses a central precept of Zionism

Opinion: By allowing all Jews to play for Israel in the World Baseball Classic, Bud Selig has recognized what Abbas hasn't.

Ausmus 370 (photo credit: Adam Grossman/Courtesy)
Ausmus 370
(photo credit: Adam Grossman/Courtesy)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could learn a thing or two from Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.
On Wednesday night, the day after Rosh Hashanah, one of four qualifying rounds of the World Baseball Classic will begin in Jupiter, Florida.
The World Baseball Classic (WBC) is the premier international baseball tournament, now that the sport has been discontinued at the Olympic games. It has been held twice before, in 2006 and 2009, with Japan winning both times.
One of those teams playing in Florida is Team Israel, whose first opponent in a modified round-robin format is South Africa.
The victor plays the winner of Spain vs France, then two more games to advance to the 16-country WBC, along with the winners of the other three qualifying tournaments being played in Germany, Taiwan and Panama.
Eligibility to play on a country’s team is simple, as set down by Bud Selig and Major League Baseball: any citizen of a country, or anyone eligible to become a citizen of said country, is entitled to play. That ruling previously allowed major leaguers Mike Mike Piazza and Nick Punto to play for Italy, and Andruw Jones to play for the Netherlands .
Every country has its own parameters for citizenship.
Israel’s requirement, called Hok Hashvut, or Law of Return, was first established by Knesset law in 1950: anyone with a Jewish grandparent, the spouse of a Jew, or a convert to Judaism, is Jewish for the purposes of “returning to Israel.”
Early Zionists debated whether Israel would be a state of its citizens, or the homeland of the Jewish people.
The argument was settled with its founding: Israel would be both. While Israeli citizenship is qualitatively different from Jewish identity, all you needed was the latter to assume the former.
Jews would get a new (or additional) passport) when they immigrated to Israel; if they didn’t immigrate, they and Israel would consider each other part of a global Jewish family.
But if you are eligible for citizenship according to the rules of Hok Hashvut – and these are civil parameters, not halachic, closer to the Nuremberg Laws definition of Who is a Jew than the guidelines of the Torah – then you are automatically part of the family of Jews.
So now that we know who’s eligible, who’s playing? Ahhh, there’s the rub.
There is no professional baseball in Israel. There was a professional league five years ago, but it died amidst a still-unsolved financial scandal, after one summer of play.
Nevertheless baseball is being played in Israel, from five- and six-year-olds taking their hacks in T-ball up to the National Team, which includes players like 19-year-old Yuli Tsypin, who emigrated from Kazakhstan when he was four, and 35- year-old Dan Rotem, a sabra who played college ball in the US.
They tried out in Florida last week hoping to get picked for Team Israel by the manager, Brad Ausmus, himself a veteran of 18 major league seasons.
Only Rotem and two other National Team players made the cut, because Ausmus had a large pool to choose from: Today there are 65 Jews playing in the major and minor leagues.
These include such standouts as Ryan Braun, Kevin Youkilis and Ian Kinsler, as well as very good players in the minor leagues and in college. Nabbing just a few of these stars will give Team Israel a strongly competitive lineup, and the idea of a baseball team representing Israel has already garnered much publicity and excitement among Jewish fans.
But will it be Israeli? MLB and its partners, including the Players Association, are putting on this tournament with one goal in mind: to spread the gospel of baseball. The problem is, anytime you place the loaded terms “gospel” and “Israel” in the same sentence, you are guaranteed to raise the wrath of somebody.
Some American-Israelis deride this squad as not really being “Israeli,” but a team of American ringers bearing about the same relationship to Israel as a “kosher-style” deli does to the real thing.
These purists believe that the term “Israeli” should only apply to someone willing to live and sacrifice (and bunt, steal, and slide) in Eretz Yisrael.
Then you have the radical Jewish left, who reject the notion that Jewish and Israel are one and the same, or that identity with one presumes membership in the other. They don’t believe Jews are a nation, don’t want anything from Israel representing them, and Americans who are not Israeli but play for Team Israel is one more example of how Israel (the apartheid, racist, expansionist, occupying Israel) are just a bunch of cheaters.
Finally, for those who follow strict halacha, or Jewish Law, Jews playing for Israel is OK, but neither Braun nor Youkilis should count, as only their fathers are Jewish.
Hogwash, says Selig: the rules of eligibility are the same for every country, and each individual nation defines its own citizenship requirements.
Selig, who is Jewish, doesn’t care that the American players may not even know where to find Israel on the map, any more than he would care if the entire team were composed of self-hating Jews. Israel allows for Jews anywhere to come immigrate and become citizens, because that’s what Israel, by definition, is about. Selig gets this.
And Abbas does not. The Palestinian leader has refused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for reciprocity in declaring Israel a Jewish State – as Netanyahu explicitly accepted a Palestinian State in his speech before Congress on May 24, 2011.
Indeed, Selig has done something publicly that Abbas refuses to do: pronounce to the world that Israel is, indeed, the state of the Jews, the state for the Jews, the Jewish State.
Selig, in fact, went one step farther, endearing himself to every JFNA fund-raiser: not only is Israel the Jewish state, but all the Jews of the world are connected to that state. He took the slogan “We Are One” – the mantra, the reason d’être of every JFNA appeal, the purpose of Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs – and codified it in a way never seen before.
So while the Palestinian president may continue to deny any connection between Jews and the land of Israel, Selig has already stated the self-evident: all Jews ARE connected. They all play for the same team.
And home field is Israel.