A serious journalist who wished to provide an analysis to news consumers on the recent Olympic scandal involving an Egyptian judoka who refused to shake the hand of his Israeli competitor may have contextualized the incident by noting endemic Egyptian antisemitism. Indeed, though Cairo and Jerusalem signed a peace agreement in 1979, and ties between the two countries (on the governmental level) have never been closer, there is little if any sign that Egyptian animosity towards Jews – not just Israelis, but Jews qua Jews – has waned.
In 2011, a Pew Global poll revealed that only 2% of Egyptians had favorable attitudes towards Jews.
More recently, an ADL commissioned poll reported that 75% of Egyptians held antisemitic views – a sign of an entrenched hatred that persists despite the fact that there are almost no Jews left in the country.
Yet, remarkably, the Economist’s “N.P.” (presumably Nicolas Pelham), in ‘Politics hogs the Olympic spotlight‘, Aug. 15, ignores Egyptian antisemitism in his report on the conduct of the Egyptian athlete, and does his best to turn the story into one of Israeli hypocrisy.
Signs of Pelham’s impatience with Israeli ‘claims’ of Egyptian racism are evident throughout the article. After citing additional examples of athletes from Egypt (and other Arab countries) refusing to compete with – or otherwise showing disdain towards – Israeli athletes, Pelham derides the suggestion that Israelis are the victims, mocking those “Israeli athletes” who “might cheer the free pass they gain when Arabs refuse to compete against them“.
“Free pass”? For which crimes do Israeli athletes require such impunity?
Later, Pelham responds to Israeli accusations of antisemitism against Egypt by protesting that “Israel’s holier-than-thou protestations” about the behavior of Egyptian athletes “risk sounding shrill”.
Then Pelham writes:
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”.
However, 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.
Pelham ends his article with an extraordinarily propagandistic and simply fantastical moral inversion – informing readers that it is the Israelis – and not the Egyptians – who should be on the defensive about racism.
The Middle East is not unique. Politics and the Olympics have gone hand-in-hand for a century. After the first world war, the IOC banned the losing axis of Germany, Austria and Turkey, and barred Germany and Japan again after the Second World War. America and its allies (including Israel) boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. 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.
Of course, “apartheid” has absolutely nothing to do with “higher” security barriers between two separate national communities. It involves a legally codified system of racial segregation within a country – a dynamic completely absent from the progressive, multi-ethnic democracy of Israel.
Within this explicit lie, however, lays a much bigger implicit lie. Pelham – by citing examples of other historical boycotts – seems to be suggesting that the decision by Arab athletes to ‘boycott’ Israeli athletes can at least arguably be seen as a justifiable moral stance against an intrinsically racist country. The historical ‘context’ provided by the Economist journalist is not an Arab world which can’t let go of intellectually crippling medieval antisemitic calumnies, but of Jews allegedly guilty of racism and supremacism.
Pelham would not defend antisemitism as such, but within the foundation of his apologia for Egyptian hatred of Israelis rests at least the hint of a historically familiar alibi: People hate Jews not because of who they are, but because of how they behave.
- Petty Apartheid at the Olympics (Mosaic)
- An Egyptian discovers that when an Israeli is pricked, she indeed bleeds (UK Media Watch)