Boycotting Russia compulsory, while boycotting Israel is punished

Israeli destruction in Beit Hanoun - in the northern Gaza Strip (AP)

Tamara Nassar

The Electronic Intifada   /  March 2, 2022

As the invasion of Ukraine dominates headlines, there have been sweeping moves to exclude Russia and Russians from sporting and cultural events.

That comes on top of massive sanctions by the United States, Canada and European countries on Russia’s financial system, economy and airlines.

The immediacy with which Russia has become a pariah in the sports world is a slap in the face to Palestinians who have seen teams and federations cross their boycott picket line, supposedly to keep politics out of sports.

And in sharp contrast to Russia, the US faced no such exclusions or sanctions after it illegally invaded Iraq in 2003.

Boycotting a country accused of aggression in violation of international law has suddenly become justifiable and even a moral obligation – but apparently only as long as it is Russia.

Astonishingly, many of the anti-Russia measures are being implemented by the very same organizations that repeatedly ignored or rejected Palestinian calls to sanction Israel, their oppressor.

Kicked out of World Cup

World football governing body FIFA and European football federation UEFA announced on Monday that Russia’s national and club teams would be indefinitely banned from all competitions.

On Sunday, FIFA expressed its “condemnation of the use of force by Russia” and “deepest solidarity” with Ukrainians.

It also announced “initial” measures including barring Russia from hosting competitions or participating under its country’s name.

But even those severe punitive measures weren’t enough. FIFA came under fire for not excluding Russia from the World Cup entirely.

Several European teams said they would refuse to play Russia in World Cup qualifying matches.

FIFA bowed to pressure, imposing the total ban that will bar Russia from this year’s World Cup.

Palestinians have long demanded that FIFA sanction the Israel Football Association because of its inclusion of Israeli teams based in West Bank settlements and Israel’s attacks on Palestinian athletes.

All of Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Syria’s Golan Heights are illegal under international law and are considered a war crime.

In fact, FIFA’s own rules prohibit national associations from playing on another member’s territory without permission, which is precisely what Israel does in the occupied West Bank.

Despite this, FIFA never heeded those calls or forced Israel to compete without its flag and national anthem or play exclusively at neutral venues.

FIFA brags about how it expelled South Africa when it was under its white supremacist apartheid regime.

Yet, today, even as major global human rights organizations have concluded that Israel perpetrates the crime against humanity of apartheid and called for sanctions, FIFA still refuses to take action.

Russian-Israeli “oligarch”

Meanwhile, Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club, handed over “stewardship and care” of his club to the trustees of its charitable foundation.

This move appears aimed to evade British government sanctions on so-called “oligarchs,” wealthy Russian nationals accused of having relationships with President Vladmir Putin.

Abramovich, who is Russian but took Israeli citizenship in 2018, was not included in an initial British government list of sanctioned Russian nationals.

The British government is promising to add more names to the list, but is being accused of dragging its feet – a delay that could potentially allow targets to move or conceal assets.

“I do worry about the government moving so slowly that its prey escapes it,” David Davis, a former minister, said Tuesday.

“We need to target oligarchs who own football clubs that many of our citizens can no longer afford to attend,” Davis added, naming Abramovich in particular.

Davis said in Parliament – where he is immune from any lawsuit for defamation or libel – that Abramovich “is one of the men who manages Putin’s business affairs.”

Notably, Abramovich’s spokesperson said the billionaire was sought out by the Ukrainians “for support in achieving a peaceful resolution.”

It is not clear what that entails, however, or whether this claim is simply an attempt by Abramovich to stave off sanctions.

It is curious however that Abramovich has never faced opprobrium or calls for sanctions for things he is known to have done: The billionaire previously contributed more than $100 million to Elad, an Israeli settler group that takes over Palestinian land and homes in occupied East Jerusalem.

This means Abramovich is directly aiding and abetting Israel’s occupation and colonization of the city that even the British government decries as a violation of international law.

Chelsea is known for the rampant racism and anti-Semitism of its fans.

Olympics boycotts Russia

The Russian sports ban extends far beyond football.

The International Olympic Committee paved the way for boycotts last week when it called on all international sports federations to relocate or cancel events in Russia and Belarus.

Belarus, which neighbors Russia and has hosted peace talks in recent days, is closely allied with Moscow.

The IOC also urged “that no Russian or Belarusian national flag be displayed and no Russian or Belarusian anthem be played” at international sports events.

And sports federations are heeding the call.

They include the International Biathlon Union which is banning Russian and Belarusian flags, and the International Tennis Federation, which canceled all events in Russia indefinitely.

The European Curling Championships scheduled in Russia later this year will be relocated.

The International Ski Federation announced that all World Cup-related events this year will be canceled and Russian athletes will be barred from taking part.

Hypocrisy in judo

Meanwhile, the International Judo Federation suspended Putin as its honorary president “in light of the ongoing war conflict in Ukraine.”

The organization also canceled an upcoming judo competition in Russia scheduled for May.

The International Judo Federation was instrumental in normalizing sports relations with Israel and Arab nations with which Tel Aviv did not have formal diplomatic relations at the time.

In 2018, Israel’s then culture minister Miri Regev met with Marius Vizer, the judo federation president, and “lobbied him extensively,” according to Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post.

It was Regev’s influence that led the organization to cancel two of its events in the United Arab Emirates and Tunisia over the two countries’ refusal to normalize Israeli participation.

The UAE Judo Federation eventually capitulated to Israel’s demands to exhibit its flag and play its national anthem at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam in October 2018, during which Regev cried with emotion as the Israeli anthem was played in the emirate.

It was only in August 2020 that the UAE and Israel formalized diplomatic relations.

If the IJF was willing to act as a “peace” broker even as Israel continues to militarily occupy the land of Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese, while regularly waging military campaigns against civilians, why did it boycott Russia instead of insisting on bringing Russians and Ukrainians together?

It would seem that only some acts of aggression are punished.

And just a few months ago, the International Judo Federation suspended two athletes for 10 years for refusing to compete with an Israeli in last summer’s Tokyo Olympics – in protest of Israel’s violations against Palestinians.

Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine forfeited an elimination match that would have potentially put him up against an Israeli competitor. His Sudanese counterpart Mohamed Abdalrasool in the elimination match refused to compete against the Israeli as well.

The pair were accused by the organization of having “malicious intent,” and that their “protest and promotion of political and religious propaganda” at the Olympics was “a clear and serious breach of the IJF Statutes.”

Cultural boycotts

Most astonishingly hypocritical of all, however, has been the ban on Russia from participating in the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest.

Russia’s participation “would bring the competition into disrepute,” the European Broadcasting Union, the body that organizes the contest, stated. The EBU said the decision was “based on the rules of the event” and the organization’s “values.”

The 2019 Eurovision Song Contest was held in Tel Aviv despite repeated calls and an international campaign to boycott it over Israel’s crimes against Palestinians.

In the lead-up to the contest, European artists and cultural figures denounced holding the contest in Israel. Activists in Geneva delivered a 136,000-signature petition to the EBU headquarters against holding Eurovision in Tel Aviv.

These demands, however, were ignored.

In fact, European diplomats hosted a party in celebration of the music contest at Charles Clore Park in Jaffa, which is built atop an ethnically cleansed village, on the day that Palestinians commemorated that crime.

Even as Israel was bombing Palestinians in Gaza last May, killing entire families in the sanctity of their homes, these organizations showed no solidarity with Palestinians despite massive global protests.

Israel’s habitual injuringdisablingmaiming and killing of Palestinian athletes, and its deliberate destruction of Palestinian cultural hubs and sporting facilities, has garnered barely a fraction of this support from international sports and cultural bodies.

Rewards and punishment

Ruslan Malinovskyi, a Ukrainian midfielder for Italy’s Atalanta football club, revealed a shirt reading “No war in Ukraine” after scoring a goal in a UEFA Europa League match last week.

Social media users and media celebrated him.

In contrast, a punishment was dealt to Sevilla’s Fréderic Kanouté after he revealed the word “Palestine” under his shirt during Israel’s 2008-2009 attack on Gaza, which killed 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including more than 300 children.

Whereas almost any show of sporting or cultural solidarity or boycott in support of Palestine is prohibited, ostracized or punished, protesting Russia is quickly becoming compulsory.

The International Chess Federation has sanctioned Russian grandmaster Sergey Karjakin for backing his country’s president. He expressed full support “for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, Valery Gergiev was this week fired as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra for “failing to criticize” Putin, according to German government broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada