Analysis from Israel

A minor sports tournament held in Dubai and Qatar over the last two weeks offers an unusually clear glimpse of the corrosive effects of the world’s casual tolerance of anti-Israel prejudice. Needless to say, both hosts of this leg of the FINA Swimming World Cup blatantly violated the rule requiring all participants to be treated equally regardless of nationality: The Israeli flag wasn’t flown (a fact Qatar’s foreign minister boasted of in a joint press conference with Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday); the word “Israel” never appeared; and to avoid having to utter it, announcers in Dubai even referred to Israeli competitors as the swimmers “from ISR.” But as swimmer Gal Nevo explained upon his return to Israel this week, the organizers’ petty spite also produced a lot of non-Israeli collateral victims:

“In order that our national flag and name wouldn’t appear, the results of every race we competed in were not publicized … Competitors swim with us in the heats in the morning, and expect to see the results on the scoreboard in order to know whether they’ve qualified for the final. But on the screen they’re already broadcasting the next race, without mentioning the names and times from the previous heat.”

In short, the entire tournament was disrupted, with competitors forced to run around madly trying to find out whether or not they had advanced to the final. Swimmers from other countries complained about the disorganization, and Nevo said they were stunned when their Israeli colleagues explained that this “disorganization” was actually carefully orchestrated from above.

What makes this so shocking is precisely the fact that the event is so trivial: This was prejudice devoid of any purpose. Anti-Israel prejudice is often excused on the grounds that it furthers a goal many people support. When, for instance, the EU imposes sanctions on activity in “Israeli-occupied territory” while actively funding activity in Turkish-occupied Cyprus and Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, this double standard is excused because it serves the goal of pressuring Israel to withdraw from this territory.

But a petty refusal to post race results does absolutely nothing to pressure Israel or advance the Palestinian cause; it didn’t even prevent an Israeli swimmer from winning medals in both Doha and Dubai. All it did was make life miserable for a lot of non-Israeli swimmers, while making a mockery of the equal treatment rules that FINA, like other international sporting organizations, claims to uphold.

Indeed, Arab states routinely violate these rules–see, for instance, Dubai’s refusal to let Israel’s Shahar Peer participate in a tennis tournament there in 2009, or Libya’s refusal to grant visas to Israeli chess players to attend the 2004 World Chess Championships. Yet no matter how often this happens, they keep being allowed to host international tournaments. So it’s not surprising they have become so contemptuous of the rules that they no longer hesitate to make non-Israelis collateral victims.

And that is precisely the point: Like any other kind of prejudice, the anti-Israel kind ultimately ends up claiming victims far beyond its intended targets. And the consequences–from vandalized factories and a weakened rule of law in Britain through the loss of valuable expertise on water purification in South Africa to laid-off Palestinian workers in the West Bank–are usually far more destructive than a mere disorganized swimming tournament.

Subscribe to Evelyn’s Mailing List

Why Israel Needs a Better Political Class

Note: This piece is a response to an essay by Haviv Rettig Gur, which can be found here

Israel’s current political crisis exemplifies the maxim that hard cases make bad law. This case is desperate. Six months after the coronavirus erupted and nine months after the fiscal year began, Israel still lacks both a functioning contact-tracing system and an approved 2020 budget, mainly because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is more worried about politics than the domestic problems that Israel now confronts. The government’s failure to perform these basic tasks obviously invites the conclusion that civil servants’ far-reaching powers must not only be preserved, but perhaps even increased.

This would be the wrong conclusion. Bureaucrats, especially when they have great power, are vulnerable to the same ills as elected politicians. But unlike politicians, they are completely unaccountable to the public.

That doesn’t mean Haviv Rettig Gur is wrong to deem them indispensable. They provide institutional memory, flesh out elected officials’ policies, and supply information the politicians may not know and options they may not have considered. Yet the current crisis shows in several ways why they neither can nor should substitute for elected politicians.

First, bureaucrats are no less prone to poor judgment than politicians. As evidence, consider Siegal Sadetzki, part of the Netanyahu-led triumvirate that ran Israel’s initial response to the coronavirus. It’s unsurprising that Gur never mentioned Sadetzki even as he lauded the triumvirate’s third member, former Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov; she and her fellow Health Ministry staffers are a major reason why Israel still lacks a functional test-and-trace system.

Sadetzki, an epidemiologist, was the ministry’s director of public-health services and the only member of the triumvirate with professional expertise in epidemics (Bar Siman-Tov is an economist). As such, her input was crucial. Yet she adamantly opposed expanding virus testing, even publicly asserting that “Too much testing will increase complacence.” She opposed letting organizations outside the public-health system do lab work for coronavirus tests, even though the system was overwhelmed. She opposed sewage monitoring to track the spread of the virus. And on, and on.

Moreover, even after acknowledging that test-and-trace was necessary, ministry bureaucrats insisted for months that their ministry do the tracing despite its glaringly inadequate manpower. Only in August was the job finally given to the army, which does have the requisite personnel. And the system still isn’t fully operational.

Read more