(June 3, 2019 / JNS) “Eighty-four percent of the Arab public that comes to playing fields in Israel has personally experienced or witnessed racist and discriminatory treatment on the field.”
This statement was not taken from an anti-Israel propaganda leaflet produced by the Palestinian Authority or one of the many “human-rights organizations” diligently working to foster an image of Israel as a racist, apartheid state. No, this was the headline of a statement by the World Jewish Congress on the findings of a survey on “the phenomenon of racism and discrimination” on Israeli sports fields.
The survey was released ahead of a conference on racism and anti-Semitism in sports that the WJC is set to host in Israel on Tuesday. This conference, which is to be attended by a delegation of representatives of sports teams from around the world, is the initiative of the Israel Export Institute and the Israeli Finance Ministry.
And so, instead of focusing on anti-Semitism, which is very common among soccer clubs around the world, it seems an effort is being made to shine a spotlight on “racism in Israeli soccer.” After all, if the Jews also turn into primitive, hate-filled racists when they attend soccer matches in their home country, then this must just be an irreparable part of human nature.
I do not doubt that there are soccer fans in Israel who engage in racist acts. Racism exists in Israeli society, as we have seen on the soccer fields and in stadiums. Nevertheless, this over-the-top WJC headline raises many questions as to its credibility and seriousness. It also raises the possibility the headline was aimed at nothing more than creating fake news to attract media attention.
What percentage of Arab Israelis attend games in Israel, and how frequently? What exactly constitutes “racist and discriminatory treatment”? Does a security check, for example, fit the bill? Given the tendency of nationalist Arab activists to exaggerate the magnitude of racism directed at them in order to slander Israel, is there any way to verify the finding selected to promote the survey? Did Arab participants in the survey also report experiences of anti-Jewish racism, as in the kind of anti-Semitism Arab sports fans may have directed against Jews under the guise of “expressions of the national struggle”?
The survey also notes that among those who attend sports events, some 45 percent have experienced racism or discrimination or witnessed the phenomenon. Among the general public, 44 percent believe authorities are not doing enough to contend with the phenomenon. Twenty-six percent of the public believe racism and discrimination are more prevalent at sporting events than elsewhere in Israeli society.
The WJC is at the forefront of the fight against anti-Semitism and the efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel. Its heads should have known better than to promote the survey with such a headline, one that would necessarily be enthusiastically reported by Israel’s critics.
As WJC President Ronald S. Lauder himself stated, “Unfortunately, as we see in the survey, the State of Israel is no exception and racism and discrimination are also on the rise there.”
The release of such a statement shows a real lack of judgment and an effort at cheap populism, but also a desire to curry favor with Israel’s critics on the liberal left.
Is it unclear to the WJC’s many experts why an unfounded and unwelcome comparison between the complex situation in Israel—the result of a nationalist confrontation between two segments of the population—and the depraved anti-Semitism that dominates the soccer clubs and playing fields across the Arab Muslim world and Europe, including in the national leagues, was an irresponsible move? If the WJC has fallen this far, what should we expect the left-wing New Israel Fund to do?
Eldad Beck is an Israeli journalist and author.
This column first appeared in Israel Hayom.