SA Jewish Board slams SA Rugby's withdrawal of Israeli team from new competition

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Mark Alexander (Gallo)
Mark Alexander (Gallo)

The South African Jewish Board on Monday released a statement slamming SA Rugby's decision to withdraw an invitation to an Israeli rugby team to play in the country.

Last Friday, the governing body for rugby in South Africa announced their decision to withdraw an invitation to Tel Aviv Heat, who were set to play in the newly announced Mzansi Challenge.

“We have listened to the opinions of important stakeholder groups and have taken this decision to avoid the likelihood of the competition becoming a source of division, notwithstanding the fact that Israel is a full member of World Rugby and the IOC,” said Mark Alexander, president of the South African Rugby Union said at the time.

On Monday, the SA Jewish Board responded, calling the decisions "disgraceful" and "embarrassing".

"The decision of the South African Rugby Union (SARU) to withdraw its Mzanzi Challenge invitation to the Tel Aviv Heats is disgraceful and frankly embarrassing," the statement read.  

"It is appalling that the governing body of SA Rugby has caved in without a fight to those whose sole aim is to boycott Israel in every possible forum, even to the detriment of South Africa itself. 

"Threats, bullying, and intimidation have, of course, always been the modus operandi of the [Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] BDS movement*, and so it was in this case as well, with SARU members even reportedly receiving death threats," it continued.

"Such thuggish tactics are a direct attack not on how rugby is administered in South Africa but on democracy itself. 

"Instead of taking a firm, principled stand, however, SARU capitulated immediately. As if that was not bad enough, it has since sought to justify its stance by citing concerns over safety and security to players, spectators and all others concerned should Israel be allowed to participate.

"Far from being any kind of 'justification', this simply hands an easy victory to those who shamelessly rely on threats to cause violent disruptions and on instilling fear into those whom they wish to cow into acceding to their demands.               

"Having taken a decision that constitutes outright discrimination and by its very nature causes divisiveness and ill-feeling, SARU further makes the preposterous claim that it was acting in the interests of maintaining social cohesion.

"A few years ago [in 2021], BDS conducted a virulent campaign aimed at preventing Miss SA Lalela Mswane from participating in the Miss Universe pageant in Israel. 

"To her great credit, Lalela stood firm against these bully-boy tactics and went on to represent our country with honour and success. 

"What a pity that in the face of similar pressure, SARU failed to display the same backbone," the statement concluded. 

While SA Rugby has yet to name a team to take the place of Tel Aviv Heat, they have earmarked the Mexican Rhinos to replace them, pending approval from the General Council. 

The Mzansi Challenge kicks off on 24 March with the Diables (Spain), Simbas (Kenya), Welwitschias (Namibia), and Goshawks (Zimbabwe) joining South African provinces, Leopards, Valke, Boland Kavaliers, Eastern Province, Border Bulldogs, and SWD Eagles.

*BDS Movement: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions is a Palestinian-led movement promoting boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions against Israel.

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