Hanan Sher: Beyond Bali

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logo-f3 copy - CopiaThe final chapter in the sad story of Israel’s exclusion from  the Venice Cup, due to be held in Bali in September, hasn’t yet been written.  There’s still no official confirmation of  the promise that the Israeli women’s team will be “compensated” with an invitation to be one of four participants in the SportAccord World Mind Games in Beijing this December. (1)

The facts now seem clear, as stated on July 11 by George Jacobs, president of the U.S. Bridge Federation.  “Six  teams from Europe qualified to play in the Venice Cup, Israel among them. The team was rebuffed when seeking visas and security. To be fair, Israel could have flown two Indonesian nationals to a neutral country, paid for their trips, and secured visas. Israel was willing to do this. But when no answers were forthcoming about security, either from Indonesia or the World Bridge Federation, Israel was forced to withdraw from the event.” (Read full Jacobs’ letter: click here>>)

As an Israeli, I’m pleased that my country’s team is going to Beijing.  Less satisfying is the fact that the wrong that has been righted begat two other injustices.  First, it has denied one team that might otherwise be eligible a chance to play in Beijing.  (In the past, the four invitees have been host country China, the U.S. and the winners of the most recent Venice Cup and World Mind Games, in this case the English team.)  Second, it fails to hold accountable those responsible for the  mess in the first place – the Indonesians, who appear to have used silence to neatly sidestep the unpleasant for them question of special security for the Israelis, and the World Bridge Federation, which chose a World Championship site without guaranteeing that all eligible teams would be able to participate did not act decisively when it became clear that the Indonesians weren’t going to accede to an eminently reasonable Israeli request to discuss security arrangements at the tournament venue.  In a show that can most charitably described as timid, WBF president Gianarrigo Rona could say little more than that he trusted his Indonesian friends to take care of security. (Read full Rona’s letter: click here>>)

Two weeks after the Jacobs letter only the naive can believe that the Indonesians are ever going to answer.  No public response has been reported, nor have they answered a request by Laura Camponeschi of the Neapolitan Club bridge website. (2) That failure may be due to cultural differences – in many cultures of the East from Japan to India, a direct “no” is considered very bad form.  It’s just not done.

Culture aside, the Indonesian silence solved a problem for the Bali hosts.  Direct refusal would certainly have evoked a strong reaction that keeping mum didn’t.  There might have been, for example, efforts to move the championships, even at this late date, or strong sanctions against Indonesia.

But why would Indonesia refuse?  There are several plausible scenarios. They might have been told to do so by their government, which has a seemingly legitimate peeve against Israel for keeping one of its ministers from visiting the Palestinian Authority last year, because Israeli presence raised the risk of a terror attack which could wreck tourism to Indonesia.  The organizers could have felt that having the Israelis was simply too much trouble.

Even in their inaction, the Indonesians can be said to have blundered.  They probably didn’t need to stonewall, and could have arranged the promised contact between Indonesian cops and Israeli spooks. It’s entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that such a meeting would produce nothing, that no agreement would have been reached.  If the Indonesians were not in a position to figure this out on  their own, there certainly must have been someone in the WBF with the experience, or the savvy, to explain it to them.

During a period or rising tensions, the minimum Israeli requirements may have been more than the Indonesians could possibly offer.  End of case.  But the Indonesians never allowed things to get that far. (An Israeli request for armed escorts, by the by, is not as unreasonable as some might believe.  It’s been done before.    According to my unimpeachable sources, armed Israelis guarded the team on at least two recent occasions: at the 2004 Europeans in Malmo, Sweden, and when the Worlds were held in Turkey a few years earlier. Nobody’s talking about the protection given to other at-risk delegations, like the Americans.  Maybe because there was none, and maybe not…)

Some outsiders may question Israel’s need for special security agreements.  Rather than answer myself, I’d humbly suggest that these doubters ask al-Qa’eda, Hizballah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any of the other groups who openly put Israelis and Jews No. 1 on their target list, followed by Americans, other Westerners and then everybody else.  The last year, for example, has seen the execution-killing of seven people, including three young children, at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, and the suicide bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists at the Burgas, Bulgaria airport.  Given the unrelenting threat and the intimacy of its small population (every Israeli knew someone who was maimed or worse in a terror attack, something that isn’t true of Americans, French, Brits or citizens of any other nation), Israel has a the best of reasons when it takes responsibility for the safety of its national teams.

Meanwhile, back at the injustices.  Here are a few possible corrective actions (There certainly are more).

1. Enlarge the field at Beijing.  Instead of four teams there could be five, with the addition of the women’s team that would otherwise had been invited, or six, which might be better.  That extra place could go to the Venice Cup runner-up or a team from a region that never makes it to the Big Show, like South America or the non-Chinese Asian countries.

2.  Make double sure anything like the Bali affair never happens again – by requiring any prospective host nation to guarantee that  any team that qualifies can enter its country, and providing it with security protection to the guest’s satisfaction and is reasonable.

3.  Hold those to blame accountable for  l’affaire Bali.  That list includes GABSI, the Indonesian bridge federation, and officials at the World Bridge Federation who failed in what Mr. Rona, the WBF president, said was its most important task, guaranteeing security.  All Rona could say was “trust us”  — and that just ain’t enough.  Did he get bad advice from his subordinates, colleagues or WBF employees?  Or was the decision his alone.  The answer to this question might go a long way towards a determination whether – or not – the time has come to say “arrivederci Rona.”


Hanan Sher

1) Though there has been no official public announcement yet, a member of the Israeli Women’s Team just informed me that they had received a formal invitation to the SportAccord World Mind Games, dated July 24 (the same day that this article was posted. That does not, however,  change the rest of what is written here. [Note of the Author July 25, 2013]

2)  Neapolitan Club send a mail both to Indonesian Federation and  Bali Organizing Committee. On July 4th, 2013  we asked a reply to the first statement of Mr Eitan Levy, IBF President, and no answer has been given yet. [Note of the Editor]

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