Olympic judo competitor Islam El Shehaby of Egypt refused to shake hands with Or Sasson, the Israeli opponent who defeated him, after their August 12 match. Media coverage, though not widespread, condemned the Egyptian’s unsportsmanlike snub and religious hostility. Except for a post by the semi-anonymous blogger “N.P.” at the U.K-based magazine The Economist, an informative magazine but one with an anti-Israel ideological line, which argued that “Israel’s holier-than-thou protestations, though, risk sounding shrill," and that it could have been a lot worse, referring to “the bullets that killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.” Only “bullets” killed the Israeli athletes?
N.P.’s August 15 article, “Politics hogs the Olympic spotlight in the Middle East,” portrayed the hostility between Muslims and Jews as coming from both sides, rather than the one-way hostility by the Muslim countries against Israel. (As an aside, could the Olympic committee really be ignorant about the potential controversy in putting teams from Israel and Lebanon on the same bus?)
The first fracas erupted before Rio’s proceedings even began. Unfamiliar with Levantine intrigue, the Olympic committee put the Israeli and Lebanese teams bound for the opening ceremony on the same bus. But their countries are still at war and frown on fraternisation. And when the Israeli team tried to board, Lebanon’s captain barred access. Later during the games, Egypt’s judo champion, Islam El Shahaby [sic], dropped the mandatory bow and snubbed the outstretched hand of his Israeli counterpart. A female Saudi judoka deftly dodged contact with an Israeli by skipping her first round match. Because of injuries, insisted the Saudi media; because of racism, brayed Israel’s.
(El Shahaby was sent home at the behest of the International Olympics Committee a day after The Economist post.)
Yet The Economist blithely dismissed these unsportsmanlike, unprofessional snubs against Jewish athletes as “free passes” for Israel, callously reminding readers that it could have been a lot worse. Notice that it wasn’t Islamic terorrists that killed the Israeli athletes in Munich, just “bullets.”
Israeli athletes might cheer the free pass they gain when Arabs refuse to compete against them. That favourite Israeli taunt -- that Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity -- could be used once again. Mr El Shahaby's snub seems mere tokenism compared to the bullets that killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Nonetheless, the Israeli press has strongly criticised his bad sportsmanship. “There is still a long way to go in fighting the years of propaganda against us,” bemoaned the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. Others chided Arabs for anti-semitism. Nazi stereotypes have prevailed, one commentator argued, ever since much of the Arab world’s intelligentsia sided with Germany in the second world war in the hope that it might rid them of their British masters and the project for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
Israel’s holier-than-thou protestations, though, risk sounding shrill. Yisrael Hayom, Israel’s leading newspaper and a mouthpiece for Mr Netanyahu, gave copious space to a campaign demanding that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) sever ties with Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestine Olympic Committee. A former head of the Palestinian security forces, Mr Rajoub has coordinated closely with Israel in the past. Yet the newspaper called him “a terrorist”.
UK Media Watch reminded readers "it is not just a claim by one newspaper that Rajoub is a terrorist, but a clear and unambiguous fact. They “called him a terrorist” because he was in fact arrested and convicted in 1970 for membership in a terrorist group, and of throwing a grenade at an IDF patrol. Though he was later released in a prisoner swap, he served several more prison terms in the 1980s for terror activity. In addition to his past terror convictions, Palestinian Media Watch has documented Rajoub’s continuing glorification of Palestinian terror.”
The Economist tried to mainstream the hostility toward Israel’s athletes by comparing the situation to South African apartheid:
The Middle East is not unique....South Africa too was kept out from 1964 to 1988 on account of its apartheid white-supremacist rule. As Israel builds higher barriers between Jews and Palestinians in areas it occupies, the boycotters find the South Africa analogy particularly apt.
Commenters were not kind to The Economist’s typically anti-Israel tilt.