Sports body sides with South Africa over removal of Israeli team

World Rugby has said it is “satisfied” the club’s participation in the Mzansi Challenge posed a legitimate security threat

28 Apr, 2023

The global governing body for rugby has concluded that a decision made by the South African Rugby Union (SARU) to disinvite an Israeli team, Tel Aviv Heat, from an international competition last month was not discriminatory, but justified by security threats, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported on Thursday.

World Rugby reportedly based its verdict on public reactions to the Israeli team’s initial invitation, which included a Facebook post warning of a potential “blood bath” and a statement from the South African Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) coalition claiming that SARU would “have blood on its hands” if the Heat participated in the tournament.

In February SARU withdrew the Tel Aviv Heat from the Rugby Mzansi Challenge, pointing to security concerns.

The union’s president said that the decision was made after listening to “the opinions of important stakeholder groups” and in order to “avoid the likelihood of the competition becoming a source of division.”

The South African department of sports, arts, and culture also supported the move, citing the need to maintain a safe environment.

The action was widely criticized, with Israel-based NGO International Legal Forum, according to Jewish News Syndicate, describing it as a “cave-in to extremist anti-Israel forces promoting the racist BDS campaign.”

New Zealand-based lawyer Ian Dunwoodie filed a complaint with the World Rugby Council alleging that SARU breached the World Rugby constitution by axing the Israeli side from the game.

Dunwoodie requested an investigation, citing the constitution, which prohibits “discrimination of any kind against a country or against a private person or groups of people,” according to the Algemeiner.

Trans athletes banned from female competitions

However, as reported by the JTA, World Rugby stated in a letter dated March 29 that it “is satisfied with the explanation provided by SA Rugby that the decision to withdraw the invitation to Tel Aviv Heat to participate in the Mzansi Challenge was based on concerns about an increased safety and security threat.”

The letter also acknowledged “potential threats of violence, disruption and risks to the safety of stakeholders, together with concerns about the ability of SA Rugby to meet its obligations as an event organizer under the Safety at Sports and Recreational Events Act.”

The manager of the Israeli team, Pete Sickle, has challenged the ruling, claiming that they had anticipated a more thorough investigation by World Rugby into the circumstances surrounding the revocation of the invitation.

We still have not seen tangible evidence of credible and significant threats to public safety. We haven’t seen any evidence of SARU or South African security forces analyzing those threats before making this decision,” Sickle told JTA

BRICS Sans Israel

Since its return to the international arena, post-apartheid South Africa has been at the forefront of the international campaign against Israel and has pushed or facilitated a variety of anti-Israeli statements, actions, and resolutions.

Just days before the September 11 attacks, Durban hosted the UN conference against racism that singled out Israel for vilification.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:  The 43-page Xiamen Declaration issued at the end of the ninth BRICS summit in early September marks an interesting shift concerning Israel.

In paragraph 42, it makes the usual references to “relevant” UN resolutions, the Madrid Principles, the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, and “previous agreements” and calls for “a just, lasting and comprehensive solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Declaration calls for the creation of “an independent, viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel” – but contains no reference whatsoever to East Jerusalem.

The BRICS organization, which is comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, represents over 40% of the global population, and its collective economy accounts for over one-fifth of global GDP.

Two of the countries are permanent members of the UN Security Council and the other three are aspiring to be. BRICS is thus a major world power bloc.

Initially, the BRICS countries were concerned solely with developmental issues and did not address the Middle East at all, let alone the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We Fought Apartheid; We See No Reason to Celebrate It in Israel Now! | MR  Online

Things began to change when South Africa joined as a full member at the Sanya Summit in April 2011.

Stating that they “are deeply concerned with the turbulence in the Middle East,” the leaders hoped for “peace, stability, prosperity and progress.”

Popular protests in the Arab world were more ominous than the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.

The Palestine question reared its head in March 2012 when the BRICS leaders met in New Delhi for their fourth summit.

They urged both sides “to take constructive measures, rebuild mutual trust and create right conditions for restarting negotiations, while avoiding unilateral steps.”

This moderate tone changed dramatically in March 2013 when South Africa hosted the summit.

The Durban Declaration made explicit reference for the first time to East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state.

In addition to the usual, it called among other things for a two-state solution including the creation of “a contiguous and economically viable Palestinian state, existing side by side in peace with Israel, within internationally recognized borders, based on those existing on 4 June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Since its return to the international arena, post-apartheid South Africa has been at the forefront of the international campaign against Israel and has pushed or facilitated a variety of anti-Israeli statements, actions, and resolutions.

Just days before the September 11 attacks, Durban hosted the UN conference against racism that singled out Israel for vilification.

Thus, as BRICS host, Pretoria was able to flag its position on East Jerusalem, and the other BRICS leaders signed up.

(A reference to East Jerusalem also appeared in early 2010 when South Africa was part of the three-member IBSA group, with Brazil and India the other two members.)

Members of the BRICS countries have indeed been more sympathetic towards the Palestinians than Israel.

China and India did not normalize relations with Israel until January 1992, and the erstwhile USSR did not have diplomatic relations with Israel between June 1967 and October 1991.

Only Brazil has had formal ties with it since the late 1940s. Hence, others joined Pretoria’s chorus on East Jerusalem.

The political status of Jerusalem has been controversial ever since the UN partition plan of 1947, which suggested it be an international city.

The global community does not recognize West Jerusalem, which has been part of Israel since May 1948, as the country’s capital.

Most countries, including the US, have their embassies in Tel Aviv.

At the same time, the city remains the de facto capital of Israel and is home to all the symbols of the state and its sovereignty such as the prime minister’s residence, the Knesset (the parliament), and the Supreme Court.

The presentation of credentials by foreign ambassadors accredited to Israel, including Arab-Muslim ambassadors such as those from Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey, takes place in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv.

Moreover, there are no UN resolutions or plans declaring the city the capital of the Palestinian state.

The Oslo and other bilateral agreements merely indicate that the final political status of the city will have to be resolved through negotiations and accommodation.

The core of the Jerusalem issue lies in the Old City, which houses sites holy to all three Abrahamic faiths.

The city is not a Berlin, to be divided or partitioned, but can only be shared through accommodation and compromise.

Outside intervention in favor of one party, in this case the Palestinians, only makes the problem more intractable.

The Israeli government has to take its share of responsibility for the East Jerusalem controversy.

For example, until the UNESCO resolution of April 2016, which questioned Jewish links to Jerusalem, the Netanyahu government was indifferent to international shifts.

Even countries that were friendly towards the Jewish state voted with the Arab-Islamic countries.

Israel’s post-resolution anger could not hide its diplomatic sloppiness.

Meanwhile, over the past decade, East Jerusalem became integral to India’s engagements with the Middle East and figured in major policy statements and bilateral declarations.

The reference to Jerusalem was maintained even after the change of government in India when the rightwing Hindu nationalist BJP-government replaced the Congress Party, which has been sympathetic towards the Palestinians since the early 1920s.

Ever since his first BRICS summit in Fortaleza in July 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has included East Jerusalem.

As late as April of this year, East Jerusalem figured in the statement of Middle East envoys of BRICS countries hosted by India. The same formulation could be seen in Delhi’s engagements with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others.

But a major shift occurred in May of this year, shortly before Modi’s July visit to Israel. With Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas standing by his side, Modi called for “a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine, co-existing peacefully with Israel.” For the first time in nearly a decade, there was no reference to East Jerusalem.

Will this new trend continue? The answer lies in the vagaries of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in Israeli diplomatic finesse.

South Africa to Use BRICS Chair Role (bad for ‘Israel’)

South Africa calls for Israel to be declared an ‘apartheid state’

The South African government has remained a strong ally of Palestine, providing both material and public support for its liberation cause.

The South African government has expressed concerns that Israel’s continued occupation of “significant portions of the West Bank” and the development of new settlements there “are glaring examples of violations of international law” as the longrunning Israel-Palestine conflict goes on.

“The Palestinian narrative evokes experiences of South Africa’s own history of racial segregation and oppression,” Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation, said at the second meeting of the Palestinian Heads of Mission in Africa, held in the capital Pretoria.

(1) South Africans Condemn Israeli Aggression Against the Palestinians. ANC, COSATU maintains long held position in opposition to Zionist occupation Quote: “While Israel says it fights Hamas because it is a terror organization that does not recognize its existence as a Jewish state, it unleashes the same violence on virtually any Palestinian. It practices ruthless collective punishment. It opposes unity among Palestinians ostensibly because this includes Hamas, but it acts just as harshly against other political movements in the Palestinian territory. The latest escalation of violence against Palestinians comes just over a month since they established a unity government, which was then recognized by many world governments to the chagrin of the state of Israel. Hamas has become a convenient explanation for indiscriminate violence visited on Palestinians before unity efforts.”

“As oppressed South Africans, we experienced firsthand the effects of racial inequality, discrimination and denial and we cannot stand by while another generation of Palestinians are left behind,” she said.

Pandor said Pretoria believes Israel should be classified as an apartheid state and that the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) should establish a committee to verify whether it satisfies the requirements.

Palestinian foreign minister Riad Malki, who attended the forum, spoke to the state-run South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) after the session.

“If there is any country or countries that can comprehend the suffering and the struggle for freedom and independence of Palestine, it is the African continent and the people of Africa,” Malki said.

Ties that bind

Our Campaigns - Palestine Advocacy Project

The first Palestinian embassy in South Africa was accredited in 1995, marking the beginning of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Over the years, the South African government has remained a strong ally of Palestine, providing both material and public support for its liberation cause.

“Our position on Palestine has always been clear, consistent, and convergent with the international community,” Pandor said.

According to a recent report by the Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights, a civil organisation with headquarters in the Gaza Strip, approximately 5,418 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli military operations in the embattled Gaza Strip during the past 15 years, including 1,246 children and 488 women.

A recent UN commission of inquiry to investigate violations in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, determined in its report that Israel is responsible for severe human rights violations against Palestinians.

“These reports are significant in raising global awareness of the conditions that Palestinians are subjected to and they provide credence and support to an overwhelming body of factual evidence, all pointing to the fact that the State of Israel is committing crimes of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians”, said Pandor while referencing the reports.

Global campaign for Shireen

Israel defiant as Al Jazeera drags Tel Aviv to ICC over Shireen Abu Akleh killing I Key Details - YouTube

Pandor was the first representative of the South African government to denounce the killing of Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May by Israeli forces during a raid in the West Bank.

At the time of Abu Akleh’s death, she compared the violent disruption of her funeral procession by Israeli police to the cruelty of the South African apartheid military.

After Tuesday’s conference session, she told SABC that “we can’t leave the matter of Shireen Abu Akleh untouched.”

“We will push the Palestinian cause at the UN General Assembly and we need also civil society to join us,” said Pandor.