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SARU decision to axe Israeli team ‘not discriminatory’



World Rugby has accepted the claim by the South African Rugby Union (SARU) that it rescinded its invitation to Israeli rugby team Tel Aviv Heat because of security concerns and threats of violence. It said it didn’t receive sufficient evidence to support claims by the Israel Rugby Union (IRU) that the motive for the decision was discriminatory.

In a letter to SARU, as well as to the IRU, and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which had lodged complaints about SARU, World Rugby said it was satisfied with SARU’s explanation.

It said it had conducted an investigation into the charges of discrimination that were raised by the IRU, but did not have evidence to support this. Documents and events which helped it to review the saga included public reaction on social media to an Israeli team visiting the country; a Facebook post referring to a “blood bath” at the competition matches; a statement on 3 February from the South African Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) coalition that “If this apartheid Israeli team comes to play in South Africa, SARU will have blood on its hands”; a statement from the department of sports, arts and culture supporting SARU’s decision “to ensure a safe environment for its tournaments”; and various media articles referencing “unrest, division, and threats”.

South African Friends of Israel spokesperson Bafana Modise said the letter made it clear that “SARU bent the knee to appease political extremists in South Africa who threatened to harm and incite violence should an Israeli team participate in the sport.”

Professor Karen Milner of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies said it was a no-win situation. “There are no winners in this whole saga, only losers. It came about ultimately because SARU President Mark Alexander capitulated without a fight to politically driven external pressure rather than standing by a decision taken by his organisation. Once you cave in to bullies, you’re left vulnerable to every crazy fringe group which threatens disruption if it doesn’t get its own way.”

Benji Shulman, the director of public policy, at the South African Zionist Federation, said, “World Rugby has now confirmed the threats of violence posed by political extremists – in this case, being the antisemitic BDS movement.

“This is an attack on our sportsmen and women in South Africa, who should always have the opportunity to compete against international touring sides,” Shulman said.

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