Anti-Semitism, Israel and the Olympics: What to take away


The original Olympics in Ancient Greece, the games that inspired the modern recreation that just ended in Rio, showcased the greatest Grecian athletes stretching from the Peloponnese to the Mediterranean colonies. In the Grecian Olympics, only those of pure Greek decent could participate, making the old games far more exclusive than the modern games that have come to celebrate international diversity. There are several differences between the original and the modern games; however, the similarities between two games are far more striking and relevant. Greek city-states agreed to an Olympic Truce during the celebration of the games to allow athletes safe travel to Olympia, which is now an implied aspect of the games. The Olympics in Ancient Greece also, like in modern times, developed into a political tool for city-states to claim dominance over rivals through athletics. The modern Olympics are meant to foster a sense of international unity and cooperation through the love of athletics, a passion shared universally across international borders and cultural boundaries. Comparable to the old games, The Olympic Games in Rio were not devoid of political opportunism and cultural discrimination. And Israel, expectedly yet baselessly, found itself at the center of the controversy.

Before the opening ceremonies could even begin, members of the Lebanese Olympic delegation barred Israeli athletes from boarding a bus headed to the ceremony. Salim al-Haj, head of the Lebanese delegation, told the Agency France-Presse (AFP) that he demanded the door be closed before the Israeli athletes could enter, but the Israelis “insisted on getting on.” What a potentially scarring experience for the Lebanese delegation: they were almost forced to participate in the Olympic spirit of international camaraderie. The Israelis eventually boarded a separate bus to “avoid an international and physical incident” but Udi Gal, an Israeli athlete, pondered on Facebook, “How could they let this happen on the eve of the Olympic Games? Isn't this the opposite of what the Olympics represents?” He is, of course, absolutely right; no intelligent individual would oppose this statement. Yet, predictably, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) only warned al-Haj that a similar situation would not be tolerated in the future. Apparently blatant anti-Semitism is passable as long as it is the first offense, according to the actions of the IOC.

This incident, of course, was just the start of the harassment Israeli athletes faced at the Rio Olympics. A female Saudi Arabian judo athlete allegedly forfeited her first-round match to avoid an Israeli competitor in the proceeding round. The Saudi Arabian Olympic delegation denied the claim and instead offered an injury as a legitimate excuse. Curiously, Saudi Arabia does not recognize the legitimacy of the state of Israel; far more interesting, though, is why the Saudi athlete’s injury only became a limiting factor once the draw—and her potential Israeli competitor—was determined.

If you do not regularly keep up with Israeli news or watch Fox News, you likely haven’t heard about these detestable and flagrant acts of discrimination against Israeli athletes. For those who haven’t received news of these incidents, it is not due to your own inattentiveness, but rather the  main stream media’s (MSM) lack of interest with overt anti-Semitism at the Olympics. Neither CNN nor MSNBC published articles on either of the aforementioned discriminatory incidents. When I scoured Google for other articles and quotes regarding these episodes, nearly all the articles on the individual incidents were published by conservative news sources, such as Breitbart and Fox News, or Jewish newspapers, such as the Jewish Post and Haaretz. After I noticed the disparity between the attention conservative publications gave the incidents as opposed to liberal agencies, I deliberately searched the archives of CNN and MSNBC for articles on these two incidents and found nothing. I find it greatly unsettling that these liberal publications would refrain from posting pieces on anti-Semitic incidents at the Olympics at a time when the world—especially champions of equality on the left—seems devoted to ending discrimination. Some on the left enjoy attacking conservatives for their cultural insensitivity and lack of “political correctness,” but, in this case, CNN and MSNBC seem to miss the mark.

This is not to say, however, that CNN or MSNBC are not concerned with the equal treatment of all athletes at the Olympics. In 2014, after the Sochi Winter Games, MSNBC published an article titled “IOC Makes non-Olympian Sized Move on Gay Rights, Critics Say”. and, just a few weeks ago, CNN posted an article titled “In Testament to U.S. Sports Progress, Women Lead Rio Medal Count for Team USA”. As all Americans should be, I’m glad that our country has news agencies that object to social injustices and inequalities and praise the accomplishments of women. However, in my eyes, CNN and MSNBC lose all credibility in standing up for equality when they arbitrarily select which groups deserve their defense in the face of severe unequal treatment. If CNN and MSNBC, and other like news agencies, truly stood for equality and not for political pandering, they would have given equal coverage to the undisguised anti-Semitism practiced by the Lebanese delegation and the Saudi Judo competitor.

To claim that CNN directed no attention to anti-Semitic incidents at the Olympics would be unfair and false; apparently CNN was able to ignore the first two anti-Semitic incidents but just couldn’t bring itself to neglect the final and most flagrant incident. Egyptian Judo fighter El Shehaby was booed after he refused to shake the hand of his Israeli competitor, Or Sasson. After Sasson defeated Shehaby in the opening match, he extended his hand to the Egyptian, who refused and barely gave a nod as opposed to the traditional and compulsory bow after a Judo match is completed. CNN’s article is devoid of even a hint of disapproval towards Shehaby’s actions. At the end of the article, CNN attempts—and fails—to address the earlier bus incident with the Israeli and Lebanese athletes, stating “Reports have surfaced that Lebanese athletes refused to let Israel's competitors share a bus with them to the opening ceremonies.” At the latest, the story was confirmed by both the Lebanese and Israeli delegations by August 8th, yet the CNN article, dated August 18th, merely states that “reports have surfaced”, as if the incident is merely an illegitimate piece of gossip. Shockingly, but not surprisingly, MSNBC published no articles on any of the anti-Semitic incidents. Even more unbelievable was the response from the International Judo Federation, which absurdly claimed that it was “…already a big improvement that Arabic countries accept to (fight) Israel”. Supposedly sportsmanship between athletes is just too much to ask for when one of them is a Jew.

The Israeli athletes, and Jews around the world, do not require the sympathies of CNN, MSNBC, or any other news agencies or organizations to succeed, at the Olympics or anywhere else. (CNN practically ran a propaganda war against Israel during the 2014 Gaza war, and Israel yet again prevailed.) The Jewish people have stood up to and beaten far greater injustices than what the Israeli athletes faced at the Olympics. That commendable fact does not justify the actions of the Muslim nations that treated Israeli athletes with inhuman disdain, nor does it excuse the laughable or absent responses from organizations globally. It does, however, point to the strength of the Israeli athletes, something that should not be forgotten or overlooked after the Muslim athletes’ failed attempts to beat down the morale of the Israelis.

This year at the Olympics, the United States Olympic delegation included its first Muslim athlete to wear a hijab during competition, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. CNN wrote three separate articles on the momentous occurrence, which points to the cultural acceptance practiced in the United States. CNN has posted multiple opinion pieces on Islamophobia, including one (offensively) titled, “America’s Islamophobia Problem”. By no means am I suggesting that unjust discrimination against Islam and Muslims should be tolerated: it should be defeated, as should all ignorant discrimination. But where is the CNN opinion piece entitled “Arab Countries’ Anti-Semitism Problem”? Although the actions of a few athletes from Arab countries do not represent the views of those countries (Egypt actually sent El Shehaby home after he refused to shake Sasson’s hand), CNN has no qualm posting an opinion piece insinuating all of America has a problem with Islamophobia. I can only wonder what CNN would have titled their article if it had been a Jewish athlete who had refused to shake a Muslim’s hand.

At face value, much has changed in regards to the original games’ homogenous nature. The International Olympic Committee has successfully transformed what was once known for is exclusivity into a celebration of athleticism and international inclusivity. A clear and foreboding lesson of Rio, though, is that the Olympics’ original prejudicial environment is far from defeated so long as our world refuses to universally condemn discrimination.


Ethan Katz is a first year political science student at the University of Florida. He is dedicated to exploring political and international issues through his writings from an analytical and impartial viewpoint.

MSNBC apologizes for showing ‘not factually accurate’ maps of Israel


MSNBC apologized for using “not factually accurate” maps in a segment discussing the violence that has erupted across Israel in recent weeks.

“MSNBC Live” host Kate Snow acknowledged Monday that her show displayed maps describing present-day Israel as a Palestinian state in 1946, when the area was under British mandate rule. The series of maps shown last Thursday gave the impression that Palestinians had control over all of modern-day Israel and have continuously lost land since.

“In an attempt to talk about the context for the current turmoil in the Middle East, we showed a series of maps of the changing geography in that region,” Snow said. “We realized after we went off the air the maps were not factually accurate and we regret using them.”

Longtime NBC Middle East correspondent Martin Fletcher, author of  “Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation,” explained the historical inaccuracies in detail.

“The bottom line is that it was completely wrong … there was no state called Palestine,” Fletcher said. “It gave the wrong impression.”

One of the maps shown in the original segment showed the West Bank and Gaza as controlled by the Palestinians from 1949 to 1967, when the regions were actually controlled by Jordan and Egypt, respectively.

My new favorite news network is not liberal (and not Fox)


This may be the kiss of death, but “>said when he and his father, CEO Robert Herring Sr., announced OAN in 2013.  There’s more demand than Fox News can meet, and these wealthy, conservative San Diegans were going to increase the supply. They also named their “>observes, Norquist notwithstanding, that Bush cut $19 billion of taxes when he was governor of Florida.

The other miracle is how much news you can cover, and do it well, in how little time.  Here’s a rundown of a typical 10 minutes of OAN this past weekend:

  • Air Asia wreckage search
  • 7-year-old survives plane crash
  • NYPD officer’s wake
  • Ed Brooke obit
  • Embassy bomber dies
  • Greek ferry disaster
  • Palestinians request International Criminal Court membership
  • Iran nuclear talks

 

The Air Asia piece ran 1 minute 10 seconds, which seems about right; CNN has fed exclusively on plane crashes for weeks at a time. Ten minutes of OAN tells me eight stories; ten minutes of Fox or MSNBC tells me one story, to make me mad.  Minute for minute, and nearly 24/7, OAN delivers more hard news about America and the world, more impartially, with less attitude, less lighting up of our lizard brains, and less of a makes-you-want-to-take-a-shower factor, than any other news on TV.

I said “nearly 24/7,” because there are three one-hour shows on OAN’s schedule, labeled opinion, which can be as delusional and incendiary as anything on conservative talk radio or Fox.  The Republican leadership may have taken the impeachment of President Obama off the table, but you wouldn’t know that from Graham Ledger’s OAN show.  When OAN host Rick Amato took some time off recently, filling in for him was conservative voice Dinesh D’Souza, who not long ago avoided 10 to 16 months in prison by “>Tomi Lahren,” says OAN, is, at 22, “the youngest show host in the political talk arena.” It’s weirdly entertaining to watch some of her Skyped-in guests refute the narrative they’ve been booked to endorse; their inconvenient grip on reality has no apparent impact on her march through the questions she’s planned.

If you can just manage to avoid those three shows, you’ve got a new go-to news network that’s almost always on

So far, there are no ads on OAN. Between U-verse, Verizon’s FiOS and some regional cable operators, OAN claims carriage into 10 million homes – not enough, perhaps, to be in your home, and definitely not enough, as they explain in their promos, to land classy national brands as advertisers.  Until they double their penetration, instead of running cash-for-gold and thigh-master commercials, they’re slicing up the news hour with splendor-and-beauty footage from around the world, plus 60-second bits of Americana, like the story of the Pony Express, and John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. OAN has also produced particularly sly minutes connecting American icons to conservative values.  We hear a nativist sentiment – “We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language” – and then learn the words are Theodore Roosevelt’s. There’s a minute on welfare reform, with Bill Clinton saying welfare should be “a second chance, not a way of life.” George W. Bush martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Israeli healing


In the “Lean Forward” advertisements on MSNBC, White House correspondent Chuck Todd speaks of the opportunity and responsibility he has because of his access to the inner world of Washington.  I feel the same about my visits to Israel as National President of Hadassah.  But the most impressive part isn’t the access to the so-called corridors of power.  The time I get to spend in the corridors of healing never fails to inspire me about the achievements of the modern state of Israel.

So it was recently, amidst long sessions of Hadassah Medical Organization board meetings, that I had a chance to make get-well visits to patients.  Let me share one of them.

On the seventh floor of the new Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower with its stunning view of the Judaean Hills, I met David Fintzi, 19.  Fintzi is an activist in reviving the Jewish community in Romania, and about to begin medical school in Bucharest.  In early July, he’d finished his exams and booked a ticket for an Israel visit.  In the meantime, he went to visit a friend in the old Jewish community of Iasi in Moldavia.  What happened while they were touring is still unclear.  Fintzi somehow veered too close to the cable of the Iasi electric train.  27,000 volts of electricity ran through his lean body.  He was electrocuted and he caught on fire.

There is no advanced emergency facility in Iasi.  A helicopter crew flew David to Bucharest.

Electric burns differ from thermal or chemical burns because they cause more damage deep underneath the skin. They are more difficult to diagnose, and they can cause shock and strain to the heart, kidneys and other organs.

The question was raised almost immediately: would Fintzi be better off in Israel?  Think about it. Romania, with 20 million citizens, is a much larger country than Israel.  The academies of Romanian medicine are much older than those we have established in modern times in Israel, while absorbing immigrants and fighting wars.  And David Fintzi lives in Romania.

But for a person in need, the question is always there.  Would we do better in Israel?  I get inquiries every single week from all over the world—and yes, from the US—asking if patients should seek help in the modern Jewish state.  Think about this.  It’s huge.

David’s parents Andre and Manuella made the tough decision to fly their perilously ill only child to Israel. The Jewish Agency got involved and helped to arrange the transfer.

The Hadassah air ambulance service created by pilot/physician David Linton picked him up.  On board were Hadassah internist Marc Romaine, a new immigrant from South Africa; and Nurse Kyrill Grozovsky, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union. This is the power of the ingathering of our people—bringing talent and dedication from around the world.  Two and a half hours after they took off, they made a bumpy landing, and sped by ambulance up the winding road to Jerusalem.

The Burns Unit at Hadassah Hospital which would provide life-saving expertise for David Fintzi earned its reputation the hard way.  First, in the Yom Kippur War, the 40th anniversary of which we are marking these days, the wards were flooded with soldiers with tank battle wounds.  Plastic surgeons from the Diaspora flew in to bolster the local doctors.  Horrendous injuries from terror needed new modalities and a skin bank.

In a rasping voice, David Fintzi, sitting up and eating, thanked me.  His Mom hugged me and wept. “Every day our son is getting better. Thank you, and thank the women of Hadassah,” she said.

Every one of us was being embraced at that moment.

On the day I visited these patients, the Hadassah air ambulance was picking up three other patients– from Switzerland, from Spain and from Hungary.  Patients from England, Kiev, and American tourists in Egypt have also been brought to Israel recently for treatment, as was a government minister from one of our neighboring Arab countries.  Also, let’s not forget the Prime Minister of Israel who was down the hall recently.  When the President of the United States of America visited Israel, sabra trauma surgeon Avi Rivkind was asked to be on call, just in case.

In the book Start-Up Nation, Israel’s extraordinary high tech success is connected to the drive to constantly evaluate and to change protocols and technology to do better next time.  Ideas are shared among all with little concern for hierarchy.  I see that in the hospital every day.

After the Boston Marathon bombing, the local team paid homage to Israeli medicine.  Every sixth year student at the Hebrew University-Hadassah medical school, whether he or she will be an ophthalmologist or an orthopedist, whether he or she is a Jew or an Arab, is required to take a trauma medicine course.  No matter where life will take them, they need to be prepared for all situations.  One of the messages they come away with is to evaluate how well they did, and to be prepared better for next time.

May that next time never come. May we and our loved ones not need Israeli medical skills. Still, aren’t we all glad and proud it’s there if we do!


Marcie Natan is the National President of Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

Marty Kaplan: No news is bad news


If you think the widening chasm between the rich and the rest spells trouble for American democracy, have a look at the growing gulf between the information-rich and -poor.

Earlier this year, a Harvard economist’s jaw-dropping study of American’s beliefs about the distribution of American wealth became a “>new Pew study of the distribution of American news consumption is just as flabbergasting. 

According to the Harvard study, most people believe that the top 20 percent of the country owns about half the nation’s wealth, and that the lower 60 percent combined, including the 20 percent in the middle, have only about 20 percent of the wealth.  A whopping 92 percent of Americans think this is out of whack; in the ideal distribution, they said, the lower 60 percent would have about half of the wealth, with the middle 20 percent of the people owning 20 percent of the wealth.