…The 2016 Olympic Games have been billed as an opportunity to put politics aside in the spirit of international camaraderie, but that’s not necessarily how it’s working out for Israeli athletes.
Animosity toward the 47-member delegation has triggered a reprimand from the International Olympic Committee and alarm from Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, which issued a statement this week decrying anti-Israel “hostility” in Rio de Janeiro.
“Shocking but not surprisingly, the Lebanese and Saudi delegations obviously have the wrong idea about the Olympic Games,” said a statement Wednesday by Roz Rothstein, CEO of the pro-Israel group Stand With Us.
“Instead of using the events to forget animosity and promote peace between people, they have brought their brainwashed minds to Rio,” she said. “How unfortunate that they could not implement the good, peaceful intentions of the Olympics, and instead have used it as a forum to spread hate and continued rejection of peace.”
On Sunday, however, the IOC issued a reprimand to the head of the Lebanese Olympic delegation after he blocked Israeli athletes from entering a bus that the teams were supposed to share to reach the opening ceremony.
Instead, Olympic organizers placed the Israeli athletes on a “special vehicle,” said Israeli sailing team trainer Udi Gal.
“The bus driver opened the door, but this time the head of the Lebanese delegation blocked the aisle and entrance,” Mr. Gal said on Facebook. “The organizers wanted to avoid an international and physical incident and sent us away to a different bus.”
He said he was “enraged and shocked by this event.”
“How is it possible that they let something like this happen and on the opening night of the Olympic Games?” he said.
Miri Regev, Israeli minister of culture and sports, blasted the Lebanese incident as “anti-Semitism, pure and simple, and the worst kind of racism.”
The Lebanese delegation head, Saleem al-Haj Nacoula, who was reportedly hailed in Lebanon as a hero, told Arabic media that he was “surprised to see the Israeli delegation approaching and trying to get on.”
“I told the bus driver to close the door, but a trainer who was with the Israelis prevented him from doing so,” he said, as reported by The Times of Israel. “I had to physically stand at the door and block him and the rest of the delegation from boarding, knowing that some were trying to force their way through and were looking for trouble.”
Days later, Joud Fahmy of Saudi Arabia forfeited a first-round judo match Sunday in what the Israeli press described as a tactic to avoid facing Israel’s Gili Cohen in the second round.
The Saudi team disputed the charge, insisting on Twitter that Ms. Fahmy had sustained injuries to her arms and legs during training, although episodes of Arab and Muslim athletes refusing to compete against Israelis are relatively common in international sports.
In June, Syrian boxer Ala Ghasoun refused to participate in an Olympic qualifying match against an Israeli, saying that to do so “would mean that I, as an athlete, and Syria, as a state, recognize the state of Israel.”
“I quit the competition because my rival was Israeli, and I cannot shake his hand or compete against him while he represents a Zionist regime that kills the Syrian people,” Mr. Ghasoun said in Arab media, according to Jerusalem’s i24 News.
During the 2012 London Olympics, Iranian judo champion Javad Mahjoud withdrew from a match against Israeli Arik Ze’evi. Mr. Mahjoud cited health concerns, but he previously admitted to throwing matches to avoid facing athletes from Israel, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Israel’s national soccer team and its clubs have to compete in the World Cup and the continental tournaments in Europe rather than Asia, as geography would dictate, because so many Middle Eastern countries refuse to play them….