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Boycott the Maccabiah Games

The Maccabiah Games is a racist event that makes the 1936 Berlin Olympics seem liberal

Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher
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Gymnasts wearing costumes with a Star of David design do handstands in the closing ceremony of a previous Maccabiah Games.
The closing ceremony of a previous Maccabiah Games. Credit: Dan Keinan
Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher

The 20th Maccabiah Games, which opens July 4, is a racist and ultranationalist event that violates the spirit of the Olympics. The Olympics are based on universal values of rising above differences of race and religion. But the condition for participation in the “Jewish Olympics” is racist. Only Jews take part in the Maccabiah. Not the best athletes from around the world, but only Jewish athletes. Some Israeli Arab athletes have taken part in the Maccabiah Games over the years, but that doesn't change the event's nature as the "Jewish Olympics." As the new jingle for the games goes, "80 states, one heart. And the heart, after all, is Jewish."

When the sprinter Jesse Owens won a gold medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Hitler left the stadium, refused to shake his hand and did not award him the medal. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or President Reuven Rivlin won’t need to leave the stadium when a black American sprinter wins a gold medal, for the simple reason that the Jesse Owenses of today aren’t allowed to compete in the Maccabiah. At least Owens got to Berlin in 1936, despite being considered a member of an inferior race. There is no Jesse Owens in the Maccabiah, because he’s not from the right race. The Maccabiah has nothing to do with competing for athletic excellence. It’s a demonstration of pure ultranationalism, not of sporting achievement or of meritocracy. That’s not how it started.

One can understand why the first Maccabiah was held, in 1932. Jewish athletes from the Land of Israel were barred from participating in the Olympics, because they did not have a state. But in 1948, the state was founded, The circumstances changed. In 2017, the Maccabiah has neither nationalist nor athletic justification. (From the sports perspective, the event is particularly meaningless and even pathetic.) Jewish athletes from the Land of Israel take part in the Olympics, as part of the Israeli delegation.

True, Israeli athletes cannot participate in every sporting enterprise. They don’t take part in Asian championships, but rather in the European counterparts. They are not invited to the Commonwealth Games or to the Pan American Games. Regional or continental competitions are legitimate. Not every enterprise has to be global, open to participants from every state.

But the key to taking part in the Maccabiah is not regional, and it does not reflect any other organizing principles of states. An Aborigine is not permitted to represent Australia in the Maccabiah, because he is not Jewish. The fact that Israel never stopped holding the Maccabiah proves that racism and ultranationalism were always a part of the state. The Jewish state is supposed to be a state with a Jewish majority, not a state that makes the 1936 Berlin Olympics seem liberal.

Is there any difference between an Olympics only for Aryans and an Olympics only for Jews? A difference between an Olympics for all races with the exception of Jews and an Olympics only for members of the Jewish race? No. There is not. Racism is racism, even when the standard bearers are the descendants of Holocaust survivors.

The Maccabiah Games in its current format is not a Jewish victory over the Holocaust, but rather a victory of the Aryan race theory — its continuation through other means. Some will argue that the Maccabiah is a national Olympics, of the Jewish nation, and as such is no less legitimate than a French or Canadian championship. Isn’t that so? No, it’s not. An Israeli championship is the equivalent of a French championship. In an Israeli championship, the participants include Israeli citizens of all races. In the Maccabiah, the participants are from many states but all belong to a single, supreme race.


This article was amended on June 25, 2017, to reflect the fact non-Jewish Israelis have participated in past Maccabiahs.

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