THE BIG PICTURE: Malaysia signals anti-Semitism is alive and well, even for Paralympic sport

According to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the two Israeli swimmers who have applied for visas for the World Paralympic Swimming Championships cannot compete there.

“We will not allow them to enter. If they come, then it is an offense.”

Malaysia has no diplomatic relations with Israel and Malaysian passports reportedly carry a notation that the document is “valid for all countries except Israel.” Malaysia is 61.3% Muslim and while its Constitution assures freedom of religion, Judaism is essentially banned there.

The World Para Swimming Championships are scheduled for 29 July-4 August in Kuching, which is on the island of Borneo.

According to one report, “Tensions between the two countries mounted after Malaysian authorities pointed the finger at Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence service, for being behind the assassination of the Palestinian academic and Hamas member Fadi al-Batsh, in the capital of Kuala Lampur, in April 2018.”

The refusal to allow the two Israeli swimmers to participate caused immediate condemnation from the Israeli Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee, and the event could be moved out of Malaysia.

Mohamad told reporters that “if they want to withdraw the championship hosting rights from Malaysia, then they can try to do so.”

It would not be the first time that a sports program had been removed for anti-Semitism. According to Middle East Eye, “In August 2016, FIFA revoked Malaysia’s right to host the 2017 FIFA Congress after it refused to issue visas for Israeli delegates and following complaints from Israel to FIFA.”

Agence France Presse also noted that “In 1997, the Israeli cricket team was allowed to play in the 22-nation International Cricket Council Trophy tournament in Kuala Lumpur despite violent street protests. It was the first official visit by an Israeli sports delegation to Malaysia.”

The International Paralympic Committee said in a statement that it was “bitterly disappointed” in the situation and that it would work to “explore all options open to us.” The IPC Governing Board will meet in London (GBR) next week.

The only solution is to move the event out of Malaysia. In truth, the Malaysians have made this easier, with the ban declared more than six months ahead. Perhaps the Israelis – which have some experience in hosting swimming competitions – might offer to take it instead on short notice?

About 600 swimmers from 60 countries are expected to compete in the ninth edition of the World Para Swimming Championships.

(Updated with the IPC statement issued 16 January 2019.)