The Israel Bridge Federation has withdrawn the entry of its Women’s Team from the upcoming World Championships in Bali, where they were to compete in the Venice Cup. It was compelled to pull out by the failure to reach adequate security arrangements for the Israeli participants in Indonesia, the predominantly Muslim host county with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations.
As might be expected, the withdrawal has aroused a storm of conjecture, including suggestions that the Israel team was banned and that Israel had asked for armed guards to protect its team in a country that has had its share of terror attacks. Much of what has been written and said is simply not accurate; this is an appropriate time to deal in facts, and set the record as straight as possible.
Let’s start with this. The Israel Women’s Team qualified for Bali by finishing sixth in the European Women’s Championships last year. The Israel Bridge Federation has attempted to make arrangements for the Israeli participation at least since early this year, a process which, one source says, involved “dozens of phone calls, letters, emails and other communications.” The Israelis say that for months they received no reply from their Indonesian counterparts. IBF president Eitan Levy charitably suggests that the delays were a matter of inertia, not a deliberate attempt to keep Israel out of the tournament – though he does think that the Indonesian organizers would not be unhappy if Israel didn’t participate.
There were, Levy says, two main problems: visas, which could not be issued locally because Indonesia has no diplomatic ties or consular representation in the Jewish state, and security. “From the very start, we realized that we would have to get the visas on the way to Bali, in Singapore or Bangkok. That was no problem.” The IBF was also willing to pay the airfare of two Indonesian bridge officials to Singapore or Bangkok, to help the Israelis get visas at the Indonesian consulates there.
Security was a different issue. According to Levy, Israeli security officials contacted by the IBF requested the name of an Indonesian counterpart with whom they could discuss what arrangements would be necessary to protect the Israeli women. The IBF requested the name of the Indonesian bridge official responsible for security to pursue that issue, but were repeatedly informed that he was not available. After asking since February, the organizers told the IBF that they would supply the name of a police contact for the Israeli security specialists. They had received no answer by July 3.
“It’s not accurate to say that we asked for armed guards, or for anything else,” says Levy. “That might have been something for security officials to discuss. But we never got that far.”
The World Bridge Federation said that the deadline was approaching and asked if Israel was going to enter the Venice Cup. Levy said that the lack of clarity about security, a life-and-death question for Israels, left the IBF little choice but to withdraw.
With those facts in mind, several things appear to be clear.
— The Israelis were not banned from Bali, as a post on the Bridgewinners.com website suggested. (Incidentally, the identity of Rick Eissenstat, the author of that post, is unclear. One thing is certain: Though he speaks of “we” in his posts, he is not listed as holding any official capacity in the Israel Bridge Federation. Levy said he doesn’t know anyone by that name, and other sources wonder if “Eissenstat” is an Israeli at all. *
— Visas were not denied. In all probability they would have been issued in Bangkok or Singapore.
— Israel would have paid the airfare of two Indonesian bridge officials to Bangkok or Singapore, to “help” getting visas – even though Levy doubts that any other country would be asked to do something similar.
— Neither Indonesian bridge functionaries nor Indonesian government officials refused to provide security for the Israeli time. They just never got around to talking about it.
Some conclusions are inescapable.
It’s obvious that Indonesian bridge organizers made no serious effort to arrange for the participation that the Israeli women had earned by qualifying. If the Israelis are to be believed (it should be noted that I didn’t contact Indonesian officials, though there was little reason to expect that they would answer). the hosts didn’t say “no” — they simply said nothing, not answering repeated requests. It is incorrect to blame that on Indonesian government bureaucracy, which appears not to have been involved at all.
Simply not answering inconvenient questions or requests is not a new tactic. There’s even a name for it – stonewalling. It’s very common east of Suez, if not everywhere.
The facts as we know them place the responsibility for this fiasco entirely on the organizers, who should have anticipated the possibility of a team from Israel might qualify for the championships. It’s a shame that the Israeli women, and not them, should be penalized for their incompetence, or worse.
Is there something that could be done now? The championships are only due to start in September, which is still two months away. One appropriate solution would be to move the entire event – Worlds, Venice Cup, Seniors etc. — away from Bali, to a venue where all qualified teams can participate. I know nothing about the workings of the WBF, but somehow doubt the organization has the guts to do the right thing.
(Retired Israeli journalist and sometimes bridge writer)
Read Full Levy’s statement: click here >>
* After this article was published, Hanan Sher wrote: ” I […] checked, and was mistaken when i said that he used we in his posts”. We apologise to Rick Eissenstadt for this misunderstanding and we take the chance to thank him for helping our team.” [Note of the Editor]