Subscribe to our Newsletter

click to dowload our latest edition



‘Checkmate’ to BDS as Chess SA goes to Israel



Chess South Africa’s excitement at being invited at the last minute to play at the 2022 World Team Chess Championship in Jerusalem was all too soon dampened by a call from the Israel hating lobby for it to boycott the event.

The national governing body for chess in this country wanted to share its excitement by posting the news on social media, which led to a backlash from the South African BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Coalition and other international BDS organisations calling on Chess South Africa to boycott the event from 19 to 26 November because it was taking place in the Jewish state.

“A huge thank you to Emil Sutovsky from FIDE [Fédération Internationale des Éschecs or the International Chess Federation] and Tshepiso Lopang from the ACC [African Chess Confederation] who made this possible. South Africa was invited last minute due to Egypt not participating. The air tickets are sponsored by FIDE, and Tshepiso made it all happen,” wrote the organisation online.

Chess South Africa and FIDE have ignored the calls for a boycott. “FIDE is an international chess federation recognised by the International Olympic Committee, and we won’t get involved in political battles but rather follow approved policies,” says Emil Sutovsky, the director general of FIDE. “The World Team Championship is to take place in Israel as planned, and we look forward to welcoming the South African team which will make its first ever appearance at such a prestigious event.”

Sutovsky was born in Baku, which was then the capital of Soviet Azerbaijan. His family moved to Israel when he was 14, where he still lives today. However, he emphasises that he’s not speaking as an Israeli, but as the director general of FIDE.

The event, organised by FIDE and the Israeli Chess Federation with the support of the Israel ministry of sport and culture, will be held at the Mount Scopus Hall in the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem. South Africa will compete against Israel, Poland, Ukraine, China, the Netherlands, France, India, Uzbekistan, the United States, Spain, and Azerbaijan.

Dr Zvika Barkai, the chairperson of the Israeli Chess Federation, is also adamant that the tournament must go ahead. “Chess is the exact opposite of wars and boycotts,” he told the SA Jewish Report. “It’s a way to transform disputes and struggles into an enjoyable thinking sport.

“The Israeli Chess Federation has put in a lot of effort and money to gather the best national teams from all over the world to compete in this championship,” he says. “One of the main goals is to let people from all over the world meet each other, debate, and learn more about Israel and its citizens. Israelis and Palestinians are living together in spite of political disputes. The way to diminish disputes is to bring people to meet and speak to each other, not keep them away from each other.

“The South African team is welcome in Israel. I’m sure it will enjoy the championship as well as touring and learning about Jerusalem and its holy sites. It will be a wonderful opportunity to meet different people from other religions: Jews, Muslims, and Christians. All of them are residents of the holy city of Jerusalem.

“The world of chess reflects in its essence a rare combination of high-order thinking skills, planning, appreciation, and mutual honour among cultures and peoples,” says Barkai. “Those who try to harm this activity try to tear apart all the above values embedded within chess. The Israeli Chess Federation will continue to hold international chess events in order to bring people together.”

The World Team Chess Championship is a prestigious international event, eligible to 10 countries whose chess federations dominate their continent. It’s played every two years. In chess, this tournament and the Chess Olympiads are the most important international tournaments for teams. The strongest national teams in the world participate, as well as some teams representing a continent. Each team plays against every other team.

“The Dan Jerusalem Hotel [is] is located in an illegal Israeli settlement in occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem, part of the territory held under Israeli military occupation since 1967. Israel’s illegal settlement regime is considered a war crime under international law. Specifically, by holding the tournament in occupied East Jerusalem, FIDE is reinforcing Israel’s illegal military occupation and its claim of sovereignty over the city of Jerusalem as a whole,” said the SA BDS Coalition and Africa4Palestine.

But South African Zionist Federation Chairperson Rowan Polovin congratulated FIDE “for committing to keep the championship in Jerusalem in spite of pressure from the antisemitic BDS movement. We further commend Chess South Africa for accepting the invitation to go to Israel to compete against the best chess players from across the globe.

“Not only will the South African team have the opportunity to test its mettle against the cream of the crop of international chess champions in a country known for its high levels of competitive chess, it will have the opportunity to see Israel and meet people from different walks of life,” says Polovin. “Events like this promote camaraderie, co-operation, friendly competition, and open dialogue, and BDS’s attempts to stand in the way of such a constructive meeting of the minds once again reinforces just what its political agenda is.”

Within Israel, the game is thriving, and many activities are carried out to strengthen coexistence between Jews and Arabs. In December 2021, the Kfar Saba Chess Club, led by Amiram Kaplan, held an interfaith chess competition for 12 youth teams. The event was attended by President Isaac Herzog, who commented, “Arab and Jewish youth, who occasionally meet for long chess games face to face will grow up in a different atmosphere to previous generations. From such events must grow restraint and moderation, mutual respect, and only positive things”.

Emphasising his love for the “game of kings”, the president even competed on the board against Sahar Mansour from Taibeh and Adam Peles from Tel Aviv.

In addition, a committee headed by Khaled Yunis was established in 2021, aiming to promote chess in Arab areas and integrate them into Israeli society while providing access to high-level training and competitions. As part of this, the Israeli Youth Championship is held every year, adjusting to the Arab youths’ holiday calendar and their place of residence in order to make it possible for them to play in the final of the Israeli Championship.

The SA Jewish Report reached out to Chess South Africa for comment, but didn’t get a response.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *