Code violation, apartheid state

By Ibrahim Abraham

February 17, 2009 -- When one thinks of the Palestinian struggle, the topic of tennis doesn't readily come to mind. The only connection I can think of is Bjorn Borg attracting the violent ire of Baader-Meinhof (or was it the Japanese Red Army?) when he dressed up in an Israeli army uniform back in the 1970s. However, the liberal decentists are up in arms over the UAE's denial of a visa to an Israeli tennis player. "The United Arab Emirates' decision to refuse a visa to the Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer demands a strong response from the international sporting community" wrote Richard Williams in the British Guardian.

And you know what? He's right; it does demand a strong response. Israel must be banned from all international sporting competitions until it complies with international law and withdraws every soldier and settler from East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farms, and ends the blockade of the Gaza Strip, or, it abandons its apartheid policies and becomes a democratic state granting equal rights to all regardless of religion or ethnicity.

Look at the way the columnist frames his argument against the boycott:

Just imagine - and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility - that, by winning the Champions League final in May, Liverpool become Europe's representatives in the Club World Cup, to be held this year for the first time in the United Arab Emirates. It takes only one more step to envisage what might happen when visas are requested for the members of Rafael Benítez's squad. On present form Liverpool will be told to leave Yossi Benayoun, their Israeli international midfield player, at home.
... At immediate issue is the tennis question, and the matter of a 21-year-old's right to compete in the Barclays Dubai championship. Shahar Peer, currently ranked 45th in the world, is a quarter-finalist in the Australian and US Opens who reached the top 15 before injuries held back her progress.

But Williams seems unaware of -- or simply indifferent to -- the fact that the Palestinian football team, for example, is routinely denied permission by occupying forces to leave the Palestinian territories to compete in other countries, and is repeatedly denied the travel permits necessary to travel from one part of the occupied Palestinian territories to another to train. Yes, these travel permits are the same as those issued to indigenous Australians by their colonial-settler ``Protector'' and the same as those issued to black South Africans during that country's apartheid regime. Moreover, Williams seems unaware of -- or simply indifferent to -- the rights of Palestinian children to be, in the worlds of poet Michael Rosen at the January 10 rally for Gaza in London, "not dead".

If delegitimising the acts of internal and international aggression and racism that Israel, as a democratic country, has endorsed at the ballot box for decades -- most recently last week with a massive swing to the (even) far(ther) right -- means disrupting tennis or football business as usual, so be it. The sporting boycott of Israel is in the spirit of bans on South Africa during the apartheid regime, and bans on Yugoslavia during Milošević's genocidal years. However warped and chauvinist the political culture is, it is a democratic one capable of popular change from ordinary people. This is what makes a total boycott appropriate; a total boycott aims at making the cost of apartheid so heavy to the voters of Israel that the policy is abandoned, as in South Africa.

If even the hypocritical royal idiots who rule the UAE, combining the worst aspects of feudalism with the worst aspects of capitalism, can do this so can the rest of the world. Like these Swiss protesters in the picture above, or these Spanish protesters or these New Zealand protesters, including veterans of the anti-Springbok campaigns in the 1980s. As one reader commented on the Guardian site: "Squeeze Israel until it abandons its apartheid policies towards the Palestinians and accepts peaceful co-existence with them."

A necessary alternative and exception are joint Israeli-Palestinian teams, such as this Australian Rules football team -- ironically named (you'll laugh, I promise) the Shimon Peres Peace Team. These endeavours are signs of what will be an inevitable process of reconciliation between the coloniser and the colonised, and thus potentially more important than even the marching together of North and South Korea at recent Olympic games. I think it's fitting that Aussie rules is helping to do this, with the sport being a hybrid of indigenous and colonial-settler sports and cultures (in the Koori game of marn grook, there was no scoring, for example, winners were chosen by consensus) and having fought its own battles over racism.

[This article first appeared at Vulgar Marxism, and has been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission.]