This weekend’s Davis Cup tennis “tie-in” match between Israel and South Africa, at the Irene Country Club in Centurion on February 2 and 3, has been tense and heated – both on and off the court.
Anti-apartheid movements held protests outside the event in anger over what they say is Israeli racism and apartheid, similar to the sporting boycotts organised internationally against former apartheid South Africa.
South African Sports Minister Thusal Nxesi also boycotted the event.
The boycott was supported by the Centre for Tennis Development, Crescents Cricket Club, LCC Cricket Club, LSA Football Association, South African Students Congress, Benoni Spurs Football Club, Actonville Spurs Cricket Club, the Council of African Independent Churches, the SA Communist Party, and Wits University PSC.
South African Jews, however, are divided over the issue.
The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), claiming to speak for the majority of South African Jews, has slammed the planned protests.
“The protests amount to “destructive, disruptive, aggressive and nonsensical behaviour” which manipulates hate among those who have no understanding of the real facts,” said a SAZF press release.
Calling the boycott and protests “vicious”, the SAZF further encouraged Israeli supporters to buy tickets and attend the event while endorsing a response by Tennis South Africa (TSA) to appeals for the event to be cancelled.
However, South African Jews for a Free Palestine (SAJFP) hit back in a Friday press release.
“The SAZF statement attacking the boycott call refuses to acknowledge historical fact: the South African struggle against apartheid was characterised by a totally justified and extremely effective sports boycott that was part of a more general BDS campaign,” said SAJFP.
“When an apartheid society refuses to change (and Israel is refusing to lift its occupation of the West Bank, has annexed East Jerusalem and is imposing a draconian siege on Gaza as well as denying Israeli Palestinians equal rights) then people of conscience have every right to apply BDS as a non-violent protest in order to induce a change of behaviour.”
“It is well documented that sport in Israel is subject to the political environment. Key examples are that Jewish soccer teams from illegal settlements on the occupied West Bank are permitted to play in the main Israeli league; Palestinian teams in the West Bank are not permitted to travel and play in Gaza and are denied equipment and proper facilities; Israeli-Palestinian sports facilities are severely under-funded compared to their counterparts in Jewish Israeli cities and towns,” added the SAJFP press release.
The organisation added that examples of Israeli racism, including the impending deportation of thousands of African refugees to Rwanda, exposed the need for universal condemnation of Israel’s extreme right-wing government which has been given succour by US President Donald Trump’s administration – thereby threatening an imminent collapse of the peace process.
“The hysterical defence of these Israeli policies by the SAZF under the pretence that sport is somehow immune to ethical practice must be contested. Sport, like any other human activity, must take place within a moral framework,” said SAJFP.
“Where players and sports organisations are discriminated against on the ground of nationality, colour or religion, the world has a duty to defend those rights and apply sanctions.”
Israeli policies of discrimination in sport must accordingly be exposed and resisted said the group.
“On this basis, SAJFP once again calls for a boycott of the Davis Cup match and supports the call for a general boycott of Israeli teams.”
Report by African News Agency (ANA)