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Sports Emerges as New Front in Israel-Hamas War

Sports has become a new front in the Fourth Arab-Israeli War as the specter of murderous attacks on Jewish athletes returns.

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Two Strategies Spiralling Downwards in Gaza

It was billed as a way to protect the security of Israeli hockey players amid fallout over the Israeli-Hamas war until a backlash condemned the action.

The International Ice Hockey Federation, or IIHF, first banned Israeli athletes from international competitions, then abruptly reversed that decision on Wednesday.

The Federation this week determined that it did indeed have the “safety and security support needed” to allow Israel, which won the silver medal last year in its division, to take place in a tournament being held in Bulgaria. Previously, the IIHF had decided to exclude the Israeli team from all of its competitions “for the time being” out of concern for athletes’ safety.

Exacerbating the tensions was a prior decision by the IIHF, after Hamas attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, to move a portion of the competition originally to be held in Israel to Bulgaria.

The move to ban the Israeli hockey players from all international competition did not sit well with the Israel team or the National Hockey League, which expressed “significant concerns” about the decision and stated that it had been assured that the IIHF was not intentionally sanctioning the Israeli Federation.


But the controversy is far from over. While the IIHF reversed course about the upcoming tournament in Bulgaria, it said decisions about future tournaments, including the 2024 men’s and women’s world championships, would be made on a case-by-case basis.

“A one-week tournament with the participation of the Israeli national team without any guarantee about safety and security of all people involved is irresponsible,” the IIHF said in a statement.

On Sunday, the actions against Israeli athletes took a far darker turn. An Israeli soccer player for a Turkish club was detained by Turkish authorities and interrogated, then suspended and sent to Israel after he displayed a message of support during Sunday’s game for the Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

Sargiv Jehezkel scored the game-tying goal on Sunday against another team in the Turkish league, and afterward, jogged to the center of the field, brought his hands to the cameras positioned there, and formed the shape of a heart. He then displayed a wristband with the words “100 days. Oct. 7” spelled out alongside a Star of David.

After the action went viral on social media, the president of Jehezkel’s soccer club called the action “propaganda” in a series of posts on X, the site formerly known as Twitter.


Just days later, Eden Kartsev, a second Israeli professional soccer player in Turkey, was detained by Turkish authorities for a public display of sympathy for hostages still held in the Gaza Strip. He, too, was booted off the team and booked on a flight back to Israel.

Sports has officially become a new battlefield in the Israeli-Hamas war. Now, international sporting organizations, including the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, and groups linked to it, are facing intense pressure to protect Jewish athletes from discrimination or harm in the ongoing political fallout of the Oct. 7 attacks and the subsequent war in Gaza.

Like the NHL, the IOC used its platform to take a stand on the issue, discussing the matter with both the National Olympic Committee of Israel and the IIHF over the past few weeks.

An IOC spokesperson told RealClearPolitics that it had made its position “very clear.”

“Non-discrimination of any kind is part of the fundamental principles of the Olympic charter, and the IOC will always uphold these principles,” the spokesperson said in a statement.


The IOC also expressed “full confidence” in the ability of its organizing committee and the French authorities to deliver “safe and successful games” this summer in Paris.

“Since Paris was selected, security has been their No. 1 priority, and they have been anticipating a wide range of scenarios to maintain safe and secure games,” the IOC press team continued.

History demands that the International Olympic Committee and other overseas athletic organizations take Jewish athletes’ security seriously. More than a half-century ago, attackers affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization infiltrated Munich’s Olympic Village and carried out an attack that would eventually leave 11 Israeli athletes dead, along with a West German policeman and five of the eight assailants.

The Munich massacre that took place in the early hours of Sept. 5-6, 1972, was a wake-up call for Western governments to the threat of terrorism at international sporting events and the dire need for tight security and greater scrutiny when selecting venues.

After the death of his Olympic teammates, legendary swimmer Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals and set seven world records at the 1972 Munich games, was forced to flee Germany in haste, hidden under a blanket and fearing for his life.


Despite this history and the IOC’s willingness to wade into the IIHF backlash, the committee has repeatedly side-stepped another front in the international sports battle stemming from the Israel-Hamas war.

In February, the World Aquatic Federation is scheduled to host an international swimming competition in Doha, the capital of Qatar. The event normally determines who qualifies for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. But the IOC and World Aquatics for months has faced pressure to either move the event or change the qualifying regulations so that Jewish athletes will not be forced to attend or be penalized for skipping.

Qatar in recent years has served as an asylum for Hamas’ political leadership, and it has long provided the terrorist organization with financial assistance estimated at roughly $1.8 billion in 2021.

While Qatar has recently tried to burnish its image, hosting the World Cup in 2022 despite an avalanche of criticism from human rights groups, the country has drawn intense condemnation for the statement by its minister of foreign affairs blaming Israel for the Oct. 7 Hamas assault, which left 1,200 people dead, including women and children, and 239 people held hostage.

In the past few months, Qatar has interceded between Hamas and Israel, as well as the United States, in negotiating the release of more than 100 hostages. But those efforts stalled in December when Hamas rebuffed two hostage release offers in exchange for a pause in the fighting.


The IOC has repeatedly referred any questions to World Aquatics regarding the decision to keep the championship in Doha without providing alternative qualifying options for Jewish athletes and the Israeli swim team. It did so again Wednesday when RCP reached out for comment, arguing that the Doha swimming championship is “outside the remit of the Olympic Games” and “not held under the authority of the IOC.”

That lack of jurisdiction, however, didn’t stop the IOC from taking a public stand on the IIHL’s ban on Jewish athletes competing in European countries.

“A country that can’t guarantee the security of its participants shouldn’t be hosting these matches,” said David May, research manager for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “There’s always a danger of being killed or kidnapped or arrested in a hostile country, as we’ve now seen with the soccer players in Turkey.”

“Qatar remains problematic from a security standpoint because they host Hamas,” added May, who has written extensively about Qatar’s ties to terrorism and several Arab countries’ mistreatment of Israeli and Jewish athletes.

But even beyond security, the allegation of corruption and fraud by Qatari officials should give the World Aquatics Federation great pause before moving forward with Doha as a host, May asserted, before taking a shot at the money and influence game Qatar engages in to host these types of international events.


“I guess you could say, big swimming pools of cash [were likely involved],” May remarked.

After Turkish authorities arrested then expelled Israeli soccer players from the country, Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar told the Jewish Insider that the incidents may be tied to the “involvement of a lot of Qatari money.”

In December, when security concerns first arose among Jewish athletes being forced to attend the Doha championship or risk their Paris qualifications, World Aquatics stood by its decision to hold the event in Qatar and expressed confidence in the country’s ability to protect Jewish swimmers. Yet, it said it had opened “a dialogue” with the Israeli Federation, but “no separate or unique qualification pathways have been discussed at this time.”

“The safety of all aquatic athletes remains a priority, and the World Aquatics Championships Doha 2024 event will be no different in that respect,” the organization told RCP in a statement. “The Qatari organizers and authorities have put in place extensive plans and preparations to make sure all necessary security measures will be applied to protect all those participating and attending.”

Asked earlier this week about the recent developments involving arrests of Israeli soccer players in Turkey, World Aquatics said only that the “discussions are ongoing.”


IOC and World Aquatics intransigence comes in the face of growing pressure. Several international officials have appealed to the organization to move the swimming venue or change Olympic qualifying regulations to allow Israeli and other Jewish athletes to skip the event. Officials from the United Kingdom, Germany, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Azerbaijan, and several Scandinavian countries have pressed the Federation to relocate the swimming event.

Advocates for moving the event say they are perplexed by the IOC’s unwillingness to take a stand against the Doha event after IOC President Thomas Bach demonstrated a keen awareness of the security concerns facing Jewish athletes. During a 2022 event in Tel Aviv, Bach apologized for waiting 50 years to commemorate the Israel victims of the Munich Massacre “in a dignified way” and called the event one of the “darkest days in Olympic history.”

More recently, after the Oct. 7 attack against Israel and the subsequent Israeli counteroffensive, Bach underscored the need for unity in the sporting world amid increasing global tensions.

“The current geopolitical tensions are extremely complex. In such times, the unifying power of sport is more important than ever before,” he told an audience in an opening address at the 2023 International Federation Forum in Switzerland in mid-November.

“Today, millions of people around the globe are longing for such a unifying force that brings us all together in our so confrontational world,” he continued. “Our role is clear: to unite – and not to deepen divisions. Therefore, we carry an important responsibility – to stand together for the power of sport and to live up to our shared mission to make the world a better place through sport.”


Eric Spitz, a Jewish tech and sports businessman whose daughter is a dual citizen of Israel and the United States and an Israeli women’s swim team member, is spearheading a coalition demanding a change of venue or alternative qualifying rules. The coalition launched a website,, and Spitz, (no relation to Mark Spitz), sent a letter in December to the IOC, pressing for a solution that would not force Israeli and Jewish swimmers to jeopardize their safety in Doha.

Eric Spitz is now imploring Bach to live up to that promise and ensure that Israeli and Jewish swimmers can continue pursuing their sport without risking their safety or antisemitic harassment by requiring their travel to Doha to qualify for the Olympics.

“For many, athletics serve as a sanctuary from the chaos and turmoil of life,” Spitz wrote in his letter to the IOC. “The Olympic movement, which represents the pinnacle of non-violent competition, fosters a global fellowship bound by an unwavering passion for the sport. At this moment, Jewish and Israeli athletes are navigating some of the most arduous trials of their lives … inaction on the part of the IOC would unfairly remove a source of joy these athletes cling to.”

Qatar and Iran have a long history of discrimination and antisemitic demonstrations against Israeli athletes. In 2013, organizers of a Swimming World Cup in Doha failed to show the Israeli flag in their computer graphics, substituting a white flag, and failing to display the name Israel, instead using “IRS” in several of the cup’s races. The international snubbing earned Qatar a formal warning from World Aquatics, then known as Federation Internationale de Natation.

During the World Cup, international pressure forced Qatar to allow Israeli visitors and athletes, and in recent years, international bodies have tried to crack down on Doha and Tehran’s discrimination against Israeli athletes,


Even after the World Cup, Qatar has a long way to go when it comes to becoming a trusted, secure place for Israeli and Jewish athletes. May argued that the foreign minister’s statement supporting Hamas and Qatar’s long history of discrimination against Jewish athletes should have been a dealbreaker in hosting any international sporting championships.

“Unfortunately, Israel is a prime target for attacks going back to the Munich Olympic massacre,” he stressed. “So, what to some institutions or countries might seem an unnecessary caution, unfortunately, is born out of experience.”

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

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Susan Crabtree is a political correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Shepreviously served as a senior writer for theWashingtonFree Beacon, and spent five years asa White House Correspondent for theWashington Examiner.


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