Israeli chess players recently competed in an online tournament against a team made up of Arab players including representatives of Syria, Algeria and Tunisia, countries that have no diplomatic ties with Israel.
All told, 65 Israeli and Arab players took part in the blitz-chess tourney, which also had representatives from Morocco, Jordan and Egypt.
Representing Israel was the Chess4all club, managed by Lior Aizenberg, a veteran chess activist who has been involved in several battles against anti-Israel discrimination and boycotts in the chess world. He organized the event together with Alon Cohen of the Jeruchess Club.
Aizenberg, who called the tournament a “historic occasion,” said the players from Arab countries with whom Israel does not have ties appeared with their national flags in the background, adding that the dialogue with the players was “very civilized” without any anti-Israel remarks.
“Sport is a wonderful thing to get people together and build ties,” Aizenberg told The Times of Israel. “We plan to continue to connect people through chess and we hope that through this initiative we will continue to succeed in doing so.”
In the past, Aizenberg fought a Saudi ban on the Israel national team taking part in the World Blitz and Rapid Championship in Riyadh, a ban that eventually led to the championship being relocated to Russia.
“We as Israelis must stand up for our rights to pressure international organizations not to accept any discrimination against Israeli athletes and sportsmen and women,” said Aizenberg. “We cannot accept a situation where Arab athletes refuse to play against Israel. We can not accept when draws are changed to avoid Arabs facing Israelis.”
At the online tournament, the Arab countries put out a strong team, including top ranked players who Aizenberg requested not be named in order to protect their identity, and beat Israel 371 -311.
Aizenberg said that while perhaps the Israeli clubs didn’t put out their strongest possible team, the Arab team displayed a very high standard.
Andrei Gurbanov, a member of the team and a former International Physically Disabled Chess Association (IPCA) World Individual Champion, put in an outstanding performance for the Israeli side during the competition and described the atmosphere as special.
“We were all very excited ahead of an event that holds such significant meaning,” said Gurbanov. “Once everything was ready we gave our utmost to win on the board and help our team.”
Grandmaster Gabriel Flom, another member of the Israeli squad, said the Arab team had “displayed outstanding attacking ability.”