UK Labour’s deputy head urges gov’t to oppose Malaysian ban on Israeli athletes
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UK Labour’s deputy head urges gov’t to oppose Malaysian ban on Israeli athletes

Tom Watson says summer’s World Para Swimming Championships should be relocated if Malaysia won’t let Israelis compete

British Labour Party Deputy Secretary Tom Watson addressing the House of Commons,  January 16, 2019 (Screen capture: YouTube)
British Labour Party Deputy Secretary Tom Watson addressing the House of Commons, January 16, 2019 (Screen capture: YouTube)

The UK Labour Party’s deputy leader called on the British government to oppose Malaysia’s decision to bar Israeli athletes from a key Paralympics qualifier, the Huffington Post reported Monday.

Writing to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Tom Watson said Malaysia’s decision to block Israel’s swimmers from competing at this summer’s event was “completely unacceptable,” noting that it would “unfairly hinder the chances of these athletes being able to compete at the 2020 Paralympic Games.”

Last week, Israel’s Foreign Ministry blasted Malaysia for banning the Israelis from the summer’s World Para Swimming Championships on the island of Borneo, calling the move “shameful” and saying that if the athletes aren’t allowed in, a new host should be found.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said earlier this month that the Israeli swimmers would not be let 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.”

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in an interview with The Associated Press in Putrajaya, Malaysia, August 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Yam G-Jun)

On Friday, Mohamad said it was his country’s “right” to deny entry to Israeli nationals and that it was “unfair to label him as anti-Semitic” for previous anti-Semitic remarks. Speaking before Oxford University’s prestigious debating chamber, the Oxford Union, Mohamad said that “a country has the right to keep its borders closed to certain people, that’s why borders are there.”

Deputy Labour party leader Tom Watson, left, is congratulated by Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn after delivering a speech to delegates in the main hall, on day three of the annual Labour Party Conference on September 26, 2017 in Brighton, England. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The “decision to discriminate against Israeli athletes” also goes against the mission of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), the deputy Labour leader said. The government must therefore put pressure on the Malaysian High Commissioner to reverse the decision, Watson told Hunt.

Watson, the No. 2 to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, echoed the Israeli Foreign Ministry call to either allow Israel to participate, or take the tournament away from Malaysia.

“If the Malaysian government refuses to do so, I would ask that you call on the International Paralympic Committee and World Para Swimming to relocate the Championships to a nation where the ideals of the Olympic movement will be upheld by allowing Israeli athletes to participate.”

The IPC governing board has promised it will “explore all options open to us to try and ensure the full participation of all eligible athletes.” It called Malaysia’s decision “bitterly disappointing.”

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