Like more than a billion people around the world I’m watching the Olympics in Rio. I’m watching athletes cry from joy and cry from sadness. I’m watching human beings push themselves beyond the limits of what their bodies can do. I’m watching people put a lifetime’s work into just a few seconds. I’m watching men and women honour their countries with pride, and celebrate their achievements with joy, carried by all of us who watch on from afar in the earlier hours of the first morning rays, or the dwindling lights of a fading sun.
In the Olympic Games, I see the best of humanity shine brightly and the worst of it cower in darkness.
And right in the middle of that darkness, this Olympic Games has seen a display of open and blatant anti-Semitism that even the world media have been unable to ignore.
Prior to the games even starting, the Facebook Olympic page mysteriously left off the Israeli flag. We were told it was a “technical error,” but it’s kind of amazing how many “technical errors” affect Israel, whether it’s leaving them off a map, or not listing their capital, or omitting any mention of them on an Olympic page.
Then of course we had the Lebanese getting into the anti-Semitic vibe by refusing to allow the Israelis to board the bus – an action which decent people were appalled by, but also an action for which they were hailed as heroes back home. With an attitude like that, Lebanon has proven itself to be as insignificant as always in the quest for peace.
Earlier in the week a Saudi Arabian judo fighter, Joud Fahmy, pulled out of a fight so that she wouldn’t have to face an Israeli opponent. Wow – what courage, especially considering her fellow women have virtually no rights in the brutal Saudi dictatorship. It also goes to show how utterly meaningless the “Saudi Peace Initiative” is – an “initiative” that we are told will bring peace to the region. Perhaps before peace in the region, they might try peace at the Olympcs.
Then in a qualifying match before the Olympics even began, there was Ala Ghasoun, a boxer from Syria, who refused to fight an Israeli athlete, saying that if he competed, “it would mean that I, as an athlete, and Syria, as a state, recognize the state of Israel.” Actually, a couple of things wrong with that. Number 1; he’s no athlete, he’s a coward. And number 2; Syria isn’t a state, it’s a collection of tribes living in the desert that have decided to embrace their inner 10th century and kill each other with as much brutality as they can muster.
In the latest incident, the Egyptian judo fighter, Islam el-Shehaby, refused to shake the hand of his Israeli opponent Ori Sasson, leading to the crowd appropriately booing him – another great hero of the Arab people.
And of course there was the customary sob story of a palestinian, Mary al-Atrash, who had to walk 10000 miles barefoot across a burning desert of broken glass, occupied by dragons, scorpions and used car salesmen, because there was no Olympic sized pool in the palestinian territories. As it unsurprisingly turns out, this was a lie, as Israeli officials confirmed she had refused to apply for a permit which would allow her to travel to Jerusalem to use those facilities, something previous palestinians competing in Olympics had done. And despite the fact that there are reportedly large enough pools in the territories, here’s an idea anyway – perhaps the Hamas officials, who use all the cement received from international organisations to build terror tunnels designed to murder people, might consider using some of it to… oh I don’t know… build an aquatic centre to develop their people and make their lives better? Just saying…
So just when you thought it wasn’t possible for the Arab nations to disgrace themselves further than they already do on a daily basis, you discover that there is no limit to the levels they’ll continually sink to attack Israel, even while their own countries lie in ruins and their people remain in despair.
Now, some people say it’s not anti-Semitism, it’s just protests against the Israeli government policies, but what particular policy are they against? Are they against the Israeli government approach to traffic? Or the environment? Or pollution? And no, it’s not against the so-called “occupation,” because before any such “occupation” they were already waging war. It’s nothing so complicated – they are simply against a Jewish country even existing at all in the vast land mass of Arabia.
Nevertheless, despite the constant barrage of the usual rubbish Israelis have to put up with, there is also a feeling of immense pride. As a Jew, seeing the Israeli flag fly among others in the world’s greatest sports arena, is a feeling that will always move the heart and cause the soul to rise. And seeing an Israeli athlete step up, with the flag pinned to their chest, will always illicit a thrill that causes us to stand a little taller. Seeing the Magen David blowing in the wind is the symbol that Israel is a major part of this world, despite the wish of so many that it wasn’t. It is the realisation of an impossible dream that somehow became possible.
It doesn’t matter if Israel win medals or not, the mere fact that it displays itself proudly on the world stage is a source of inspiration. And when Ori Sasson and Yarden Gerbi won their bronze medals, you could see in their faces the thrill and the joy of their achievements, not just for them but for all of us who celebrated with them.
Israel might not bring home a bag filled with gold medals, but it’s not what it brings home that counts – it’s what it gives out. And it gives out plenty.
The Israeli athletes should know that we, the Jewish nation from around the world, support them in every effort they make in their quest for glory. But while they seek glory, glory is what they already give us.
When Adolf Hitler opened his Nazi Olympic Games in 1936, little would he have realised that 80 years later, the people he tried desperately to wipe out would be back, waving their flag with pride and with honour.
The Nazi Reich that was supposed to reign for a thousand years is gone, but the State of Israel is here – and it’s not going anywhere.