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NHL expresses ‘significant concerns’ with Israel hockey ban

The North American league has joined those criticizing the International Ice Hockey Federation's decision to bar Israel from an upcoming tournament.

Israeli ice-hockey forward Maor Sherf in 2016. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Israeli ice-hockey forward Maor Sherf in 2016. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The National Hockey League has expressed “significant concerns” with the International Ice Hockey Federation’s decision last week to ban the Israeli national hockey team from an upcoming competition.

In a Jan. 10 announcement, the Zurich-based worldwide governing body for ice hockey said that it “has decided to restrict the Israeli National Team from participating in IIHF Championships until the safety and well-being of all participants (including Israeli participants) can be assured.”

The IIHF clarified on Friday that the ban only applies to an U20 (under 20 years old) men’s Division III world championship tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria, later this month and that meetings will take place to determine the policy of future tournaments. The puck is scheduled to drop on Jan. 22 and Israel was supposed to compete in the Group B round-robin with Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, New Zealand and Turkey.

The National Hockey League said in a statement on Saturday, “The NHL has significant concerns with the announcement from the IIHF on Wednesday regarding the Israeli National Team’s eligibility for, and participation in, upcoming IIHF events. We expressed those concerns to the IIHF and have attempted to get a better understanding of both the scope and underlying rationale for the decision that was made.”

The statement continued, “As we understand it, the decision is intended to be temporary in nature and rests solely on the IIHF’s overriding concern for the safety and security of all of its stakeholders, including both the Israeli National Team and other participating teams. Importantly, we also have been assured that the decision is not intended to be a sanction against the Israeli Federation and will not affect the Israeli Federation’s status as a full member in good standing with the IIHF.

“We urge the IIHF to take whatever steps necessary to address its concerns as expeditiously as possible so that Israeli National Teams are not unfairly excluded from future events for which they are eligible and have qualified.”

Mikhael Horowitz, an Israeli hockey player and CEO of the Ice Hockey Federation of Israel (IHFI), told The Canadian Jewish News that the move is “discriminatory and against the Olympic Charter and it will not be accepted by Israel.”

Israel will appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport based in Lausanne, Switzerland, Horowitz said.

Paul Shindman, who founded the Ice Hockey Federation of Israel in 1989, told The Canadian Jewish News that he was outraged by the decision.

“To punish Israeli hockey players after their country was brutally attacked by terrorists is unfair and unjust. Israel’s sportsmen and women deserve the support and embrace of their friends in the international hockey world, not to be excluded. It makes them victims twice over,” he said.

Another voice joining the chorus of criticism over the move is two-time Stanley Cup winner with the New Jersey Devils, Bobby Holík, a Czech-American former NHLer who is the head coach of the Israeli men’s national hockey team.

“This hockey situation presents a great opportunity for the league [the NHL] to make a stand and somehow confront the IIHF,” Holík told the New York Post. “To me, this is an extension of the Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS). It’s like, ‘Hey, we don’t want to be uncomfortable, we’ll just keep the Jews out of it.’”

Holík continued, “This is just people finding ways to show their antisemitism. Nobody stands up. Nobody says anything. So they keep doing it. I could ask the NHL and people in hockey to make a stand for Israel, but nobody wants to go that way. The NHL works closely, I believe, with the IIHF on the Olympic Games and other things. I think they should somehow put a little heat on the IIHF.”

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