Jewish groups urge US rugby to pull out of South Africa tourney that banned Israel

American Jewish Committee, ADL, Jewish Federations call on American team to withdraw from ‘discriminatory competition’ after Tel Aviv squad disinvited due to BDS pressure

Illustrative: Fans at a South Africa rugby match in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 13, 2022. (AP/Themba Hadebe)
Illustrative: Fans at a South Africa rugby match in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 13, 2022. (AP/Themba Hadebe)

JTA — A number of major American Jewish organizations on Friday urged a California-based professional rugby team to pull out of an international competition that disinvited an Israeli team.

In a letter sent to the San Clemente Rhinos, the groups called on the team to “tackle this alarming problem by speaking out against this discrimination and declining to participate in a discriminatory competition.”

The letter’s signatories include the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Federations of North America. It was organized by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights.

South Africa Rugby had announced on February 3 that the Tel Aviv Heat team was no longer invited to a March 24 competition. The decision came after pressure from the South African BDS Coalition, an affiliate of the Palestinian BDS National Committee that promotes the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

Since the US team would replace Israel in the tournament, the Jewish groups said the dynamic could create the “unacceptable appearance that the San Clemente Rhinos are benefiting from discrimination against the Heat.”

South Africa Rugby’s president said the decision to remove Israel from the competition came after “we listened to the opinions of important stakeholder groups.”

“We have taken this decision to avoid the likelihood of the competition becoming a source of division, notwithstanding the fact that Israel is a full member of World Rugby and the IOC,” said Mark Alexander.

The Jewish groups’ letter also pointed to other historical instances of antisemitism and Israel discrimination in sports — most notably the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre during which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered.

“Attempts to discriminate against Jewish or Israeli athletes have been unsuccessful in large part because the international community quickly and forcefully expressed their outrage,” the letter reads. “The Rhinos and USA Rugby must do the same.”

In a separate appeal, UK Lawyers for Israel asked the International Olympic Committee to intervene.

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