Malaysia now says it won't host any event involving Israelis

Israel blasts Malaysia for refusing to admit its Paralympic swimmers

Foreign Ministry calls on international governing body to change the venue of summer tournament if athletes banned from competing

Swimmers at the 2018 Israel Paralympic winter swim championships held at the Alyn pool in Haifa (Karen Isaacson, Israel Paralympic Committee Facebook page)
Swimmers at the 2018 Israel Paralympic winter swim championships held at the Alyn pool in Haifa (Karen Isaacson, Israel Paralympic Committee Facebook page)

Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday blasted Malaysia for banning Israelis from an upcoming Paralympic swimming tournament, calling the move “shameful” and saying that if the athletes aren’t allowed in, a new host should be found.

Last week Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said that Israeli swimmers would not be allowed into the country, and on Wednesday his foreign minister, Saifuddin Abdullah, said the predominantly Muslim country “will not host any more events involving Israel or its representatives.”

Thursday’s response from the Foreign Ministry noted that the Kuching tournament, scheduled for July and August on the island of Borneo, is a qualifying event for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and is organized by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

“This is shameful and totally opposes the Olympic spirit. Israel condemns the decision, inspired no doubt by Malaysia’s PM Mahathir [Mohamad]’s rabid anti-Semitism,” the ministry said in a statement. “We call upon the International Paralympic Committee to change this wrong decision or change the venue of the event.”

The Israeli national Paralympic swimming team on its return from the 2018 European championships. (Israel Paralympic Association photo, Facebook)

The IPC issued its own statement Wednesday saying it “is bitterly disappointed at the stance of the Malaysian government with regards to Israel’s participation at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships.”

“World Championships should be open to all eligible nations and athletes,” the IPC statement continued, adding that it was continuing to talk with the Malaysian organizing committee.

The IPC governing board “will be discussing this matter” when it meets in London next week, it said. “We will explore all options open to us to try and ensure the full participation of all eligible athletes.”

IPC spokesperson Craig Spence said the board meeting will conclude January 27. “It’s likely we will have an update on the final day of the meeting with regards to this issue,” he said in an email.

Israeli athletes are regularly banned from competing at international sporting events in Arab and Muslim countries, or forced to compete without displaying their national symbols. A number of incidents have led to reprimands from international governing bodies and promises to reform.

Malaysia has stopped Israeli athletes from competing in a sporting event before. Two Israeli windsurfers had to pull out of a competition on the island of Langkawi after they were refused visas in 2015.

Malaysia also refused to host a conference for world soccer’s governing body FIFA in 2017 as an Israeli delegation was due to attend.

Mahathir, now 93 and in his second stint as prime minister, has in the past attracted criticism for his verbal attacks on Jews, including calling them “hook-nosed.”

The previous government allowed a high-level Israeli delegation to attend a UN conference in Kuala Lumpur in 2018, sparking public anger.

AFP contributed to this report.

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