Lebanese Rebuff of Israeli Olympic Team: ‘Anti-Semitic, Unsportsmanlike’

Unsportsmanlike behavior by the head of Lebanon’s Olympic delegation prior to opening ceremonies failed to discourage Israeli athletes. In fact it had the opposite effect.

Salim al-Haj Nakoula, head of the Lebanese delegation, physically blocked the Israeli team from boarding the bus assigned to both teams, though he later had several explanations for his unseemly behavior.

Lebanese media outlets praised the incident as a legitimate expression of “resistance,” but Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev called it “the worst kind of anti-Semitism and racism.”

“I send a warm hug to the Israeli athletes who were humiliated on such an important day for them,” Regev said, promising to strengthen Israeli sailing coach Udi Gal, whom she said “was overwhelmed by this anti-Semitic and unsportsmanlike incident.”

Israelis are all too familiar with such behavior, not just at the Olympics, but in other professional sports competitions abroad as well. One Israeli athlete said while it certainly wasn’t pleasant, it “brought us back to reality.”

“We, like all the athletes from the other delegations around us, were looking forward to one of the highlights [opening ceremonies] of the Olympics, but this incident brought us back to reality,” he said. “It was a reminder of the routine treatment our country faces, and you could say it might even motivate all of us to achieve better results.”

Nakoula claimed he didn’t know the two teams were assigned to travel together to opening ceremonies, saying his actions represented the entire delegation.

Not unexpectedly, he spun a different story to Lebanese media, who reportedly welcomed his behavior. One journalist with Hezbollah’s al-Manar network tweeted, “The Israelis were sent away from the bus because normalization [with Israel] is not to be had in any form and because the Lebanese identity [is] resistance [toward Israelis]. Be proud to be Lebanese,” he concluded, according to YNet.

Israeli Olympian Gill Lustig, head of the Israeli delegation, said Nakoula’s behavior did not jibe with the Olympic spirit, while acknowledging better planning would have prevented the incident altogether.

“We certainly don’t believe in boycotts,” Lustig said, noting “they asked that we not make a scene ahead of the opening ceremony.”

Meanwhile, in a post to his Facebook page, Udi Gal called Nakoula’s behavior “disgraceful.”

But the pervasive anti-Semitic spirit, which theoretically should not be part of the Olympics, didn’t stop there.

As the Israeli delegation was introduced on opening night, the athletes heard booing along with applause, while the Palestinian team was welcomed with hearty applause.

This article originally appeared on CBN News, August 9, 2016, and reposted with permission.