Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev on Sunday decried the Lebanese Olympic delegation’s refusal to travel on the same bus as their Israeli counterparts as “anti-Semitism” and “the worst kind of racism.”
On Friday, Lebanese Olympic athletes attempted to block the Israeli team from traveling with them to the opening ceremony, according to a report by an Israeli trainer who said he had witnessed the scene.
“I kept on insisting that we board the bus and said that if the Lebanese did not want to board as well, they are welcome to leave,” Udi Gal, the Israeli sailing team trainer, wrote in a Facebook post Friday.
“The bus driver opened the door, but this time the head of the Lebanese delegation blocked the aisle and entrance. The organizers wanted to avoid an international and physical incident and sent us away to a different bus.”
In response, Regev called on the International Olympic Committee to condemn the Lebanese delegation’s alleged actions.
“I am incensed by the incident. It is anti-Semitism pure and simple, and the worst kind of racism,” Regev told Israel Radio.
“The [International] Olympic Committee, which champions the separation of sports and politics, must condemn this vehemently and work to ensure that such behavior is not repeated,” she added.
So far, no official response on behalf of the delegations was given regarding the incident. The Olympic organizing committee has also yet to offer a statement about the incident.
Regev promised to bring it up at a meeting with the representatives from all the countries participating in the Rio Olympics on Sunday morning, “with the intention of getting an official condemnation.”
In the meantime, she sent a “warm hug to our athletes who were humiliated on such an important and emotional day for them,” and thanked Gal for alerting her to the incident.
The head of the Lebanese delegation, Saleem a-Haj Nacoula, was praised in the Lebanese press and on social media as a hero.
Nacoula told Lebanese media that the Israelis were “looking for trouble” when they insisted on boarding the same bus.
“There were more than 250 buses assigned to transport delegations from the Olympics village to the ceremony. After we boarded bus number 22, for the Lebanese delegation, I was surprised to see the Israeli delegation approaching and trying to get on,” he said.
“I told the bus driver to close the door but a trainer who was with the Israelis prevented him from doing so. I had to physically stand at the door and block him and the rest of the delegation from boarding, knowing that some were trying to force their way through and were looking for trouble,” he went on.
For the 2016 Olympic Games, which officially opened on Friday, Israel proudly showed off its largest delegation ever, with 47 athletes competing in 16 sports. Israel’s delegation also includes 34 coaches and about 25 support staff.