The Israelis fans were ecstatic when Yarden Garbi and Or Sasson won two bronze medals in the judo competition in Rio earlier this month. The years of training in preparation for the big day have paid off and, despite the unpleasant atmosphere that they were greeted with, they managed to succeed with the eyes of the world upon them. When the welcome committee was organised at the Ben Gurion Airport last Tuesday no one suspected that it could be misconstrued into a political rant, almost, in my opinion a personal vendetta, which fails to make any logical connection between unrelated facts in order to support its shaky stance.
“Wrong place, wrong time” has never been truer for one of the unofficial members of the welcome team, Boaz Blum. He wasn’t handpicked for the interview. He’s not a politician and his presence there was simply aimed at thanking the two Israeli athletes for their excellent performance. In our telephone conversation he refused to make any public statement. He only said that he failed to see the connection made between his support for the Israeli team and being referred to as a fascist virus. In his article for Ha’aretz, Rogel Alpher compared him to “his hero” the Shadow, who has been previously summarised by the same newspaper as “the dangerous product of incessant incitement by extreme right-wing elements”.
Boaz insisted, however, that despite all this he doesn’t want to go public and wants the rest of the conversation to stay off record.
I am, however, absolutely perplexed with Ha’aretz questioning the motives of the welcome committee and the root of their national pride. Mr Alpher seems to completely disregard the simple reality of the Olympics; every single country that sends their representatives is beside themselves with happiness especially, if any of their athletes comes home with that sort of recognition. Every single country has fans, who are thrilled to be able to organise a welcome event and they aren’t afraid to say that the entire country is proud of their sportsmen. Why has it suddenly become a problem for the Israeli fans to show their gratitude? Why can’t they express their pride?
According to Mr Alpher, when an Israeli says “we”, “the state” or uses any form of a collective subject, he or she is infected by the fascist virus. He continues, unapologetically, that the pride the fans feel in their hearts stems from the understanding that the State of Israel is the leper of the world and that the fans cultivate the sense of victimhood based on ever-existent anti-Semitism.
But, wait a moment, why shouldn’t the Israelis be proud of their team? Just to throw some numbers here, in 2016 the Unites States of America sent 555 of their best athletes to represent their country in Rio. The UK sent 366, Germany 420, Poland 243 and if someone likes the numbers there exists a very interesting chart that one may amuse themselves with for days. Israel sent 48 athletes and two of them so far came back with bronze medals. That they achieved them in the “marginal sport” instead of something more praiseworthy? Mr Alpher, that depends on what one defines to be marginal.
Just as the world marvels at the skills of Usain Bolt and Simone Biles, while scientists are trying to understand how their bodies defy the forces of gravity, shouldn’t “we” simply say a heart-felt “thank you” to the Israeli athletes for their efforts? Besides, are we now going to be banned from using the word “we”, because we will be accused of spreading the fascist virus?
No-one got offended when it was reported that Miss Biles came from not such a flattering background and yet managed to surprise everyone, succeeding and becoming the most decorated Olympic athlete at such a young age. Her precision is mind-boggling and her body seems to know no limitations. Should we (the unfortunate “we”) think that, the fact that the small-in-size State of Israel sent 48 athletes only proves that we have a sense of national humiliation which we need to compensate for? That we only measure our success against anti-Semitism? This is beyond ridiculous.
Whether the purpose of Mr Alpher’s article was a personal vendetta or just simple measure of contempt for either the State of Israel, the athletes or the public, I seriously do not know. His arguments do not add up and the connection he’s making between that moment marked by the sense of unity at the Ben Gurion Airport and the underlying national shame is preposterous.
On a personal note, I wish to congratulate both Yarden and Or for their spectacular performances and I wish I was at that airport to personally thank them for all their efforts. Yes, we are proud of you.