A delegation of British members of parliament, who are also amateur cricketers, has arrived in Israel to explore co-existence in the political arena, and on the pitch.
Nine members of the Lords and Commons Cricket Club, an all-parliamentarian club, will play against several Israeli clubs during a four-day tour of the country. The MPs, most of whom belong to the Conservative Party, are joined by former professional cricket player and British team captain John Emburey.
Stuart Polak, director of the Conservative Friends of Israel, which organized the tour in partnership with the Israel Cricket Association, said that while Israel is not exactly known as a cricket powerhouse, the sport is growing in popularity and provides a window onto Israeli society.
"There's a lot of cricket being played here, and not just by expats," Polak said. "We thought this was a great way to expose the MPs to Israel."
The first-of-its-kind cricket tour of Israel was the brainchild of British MP Nigel Adams, who visited Israel last year at the invitation of the Conservative Friends of Israel and has returned with the current delegation.
"We've just witnessed a fantastic summer of sport in our country, and I think it's important for my colleagues to witness how sport in Israel can help break down barriers," Adams told Haaretz last night after arriving in the country. The club has previously visited India and Portugal, he said.
Emburey will help lead a cricket workshop today at the El-Majed school in Hura, a Bedouin town in the Negev, after which the club will play a match against the Hura Youth Cricket Club. They will then drive to Be'er Sheva to play with Israeli and Palestinian children from Cricket4Peace, a cross-border tolerance-building program run by the Israel Cricket Association and the Peres Center for Peace.
On Saturday, the club will face perhaps its biggest test against Young Ashdod, the 2011 Israel League champions.
It's not all cricket matches and private lunches for the MPs during their tour. They will also stop in Sderot to assess the security situation, meet with the British ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, tour Jerusalem's Old City and visit Yad Vashem.
Stanley Perlman, the South African-born chairman of the Israel Cricket Association, described cricket as a "culture" that bridges ethnic and political divides.
"I believe that cricket can be used as a vehicle to bring people together, even if they don't particularly like each other," Perlman said. Approximately 1,500 children and 500 adults play cricket on organized teams in Israel, he said.