The other day, Abraham Miller wrote about the efforts of BDS activists to dehumanize, delegitimize and disengage with Israelis in any way, shape or form up to and including the Rio Olympics. He cited the recent refusal of the Lebanese Olympic team to share a bus with the Israeli Olympic team.
This dehumanization reared its ugly head following a judo match between Or Sasson of Israel and Islam El Shehaby of Egypt. After Sasson defeated El Shehaby, he offered him his hand and El Shehaby backed away from him. Watch the video below.
If you watch the video, you will see that a most remarkable thing occurs. The Brazilian crowd loudly jeered El Shehaby. Now I don’t think Brazilians are particularly pro-Israel per se. Indeed it was only two years ago that Brazil recalled its Ambassador from Tel Aviv following its disapproval of “disproportionate force” during Operation Protective Edge.
But what it demonstrates is that Brazilians disapprove of incivility. They saw a man offering his hand in friendship and another man refusing it. Even if they happen not to be particularly sympathetic to Israel there is a belief that politics should be left outside the sports arena.
Yet I believe Sasson’s gesture and El Shehaby’s rejection of that gesture is a metaphor for The Middle East. Israel offers its hand and the potential Arab/Muslim partner chooses to walk away empty handed. It was revealed this week that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has once again refused to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just as he recently refused to meet with Israeli President Reuben Rivlin.
Now it’s true that Israel and Egypt have enjoyed a diplomatic relations for nearly 40 years. Yet when I traveled to Israel back in 1988 many an Israeli told me it was “a cold peace”. A 2006 Pew Research Center survey of Muslim views of Jews found that 98% of Egyptian Muslims viewed Jews unfavorably. After the Muslim Brotherhood overthrow of Mubarak, 85% of Egyptians wanted to end diplomatic relations with Israel although they weren’t prepared to go to war over it.
No doubt this state of affairs prevails among the populace in Saudi Arabia although the Saudi government has been working with Israel as the prospect of a nuclear Iran is too much to bear. But evidently competing against Israeli judoka Gili Cohen was too much to bear for Saudi judoka Joud Fahmy who saw fit to forfeit her match instead of sharing the same ring. In that case, some people viewed El Shehaby’s willingness to fight Sasson as a step in the right direction.
But so long as the Lebanese (be they Muslim or Christian) refuse to share a bus with Israelis, so long as an Egyptian refuses to shake an Israeli’s hand and a Saudi woman refuses to engage in the spirit of competition with an Israeli woman there will never be a meaningful peace in The Middle East.
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