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Calls for Israel to be banned from the Olympics: influenced by ideological-religious whataboutism

For several weeks now, an online petition has been calling for "Suspend Israel from International Sports". The appeal was launched by the left-wing collective movement DiEM25. In the petition paper, fundamental facts are being omitted or deliberately distorted.

Al-Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. (Photo: Imago)

The petition appears on a BDS website too. This abbreviation stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and is a Palestinian lobby organisation that was founded along the lines of the former Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM). BDS has also just criticised Qatar for allowing Israelis to take part in the World Swimming Championships in Doha: "The genocide of Palestinians continues in Gaza - and the enemy swims in Doha".

"The enemy swims ..." BDS, traditional left-wing ideologies, hatred of Israel, anti-Semitism, justified criticism of the bombing of Gaza – everything is blurred here. Some even speak of "Israeli fascism".

Wasn't it Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who was the first to claim in October 2023 that if Russia was banned from the Olympics, then the same must now apply to Israel?

"This is, of course, outrageous," said Lavrov. "Once again we see an example of the bias and ineptitude of the International Olympic Committee, which time and again proves its political bent."

Well, monsters like Lavrov use every opportunity to sow their evil seeds. Lavrov is a serial liar, a criminal. A perpetrator who wants nothing more than to divide, unsettle, stultify and destroy. His mendacious argumentation follows the classic propaganda pattern of whataboutism.

And this whataboutism doesn't just catch on with right-wingers, but is also wonderfully effective on the left and extreme left spectrum – even in democratic nations.

Before we take a closer look at these arguments and the calls for a boycott, let me say this, because if I don't make a note of it, people will say that I am an old, white European racist who is only interested in Ukraine but doesn't care about the innocent Palestinian victims. Journalists like me, I've read that too, are supposedly following some imaginary order from Washington. You may already realise how stupid and false and dishonest it all is. It's just as stupid as the false assertion I've also had to read in such articles that no pro-Palestinian demonstrations are allowed to take place in Germany, where I live.

The truth is: those who celebrate terrorism and practise anti-Semitism are breaking German laws. That's all it's about.

Every innocent victim is one too many. Every exhaled life is to be regretted, whether it is a Palestinian, a citizen of Israel, Ukraine, another country or a deplorable, poorly trained and ill-equipped Russian sent to war by Vladimir Putin and Lavrov.

We can certainly agree on that. So on that basis we can look at some patterns of argumentation.


The DiEM25 appeal "Suspend Israel from International Sports" has so far allegedly been signed by more than 46,000 people. One of the founders of this organisation is the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. I search in vain for references to Hamas' bestial act of terror on 7 October 2023 in the petition and the supplementary statement.

Varoufakis wrote on Twitter/X, promoting the boycott: "Suspend Apartheid Israel from International Sports. Like we once suspended Apartheid South Africa."

Background on the BDS movement: Back on 17 May 2019, the German parliament adopted a cross-party motion entitled: "Resolutely countering the BDS movement – combating anti-Semitism". Large sections of left-wing MPs, including some Greens, voted against it. The resolution states, among other things:

For years, the "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" movement (abbreviated to BDS) has also been calling for a boycott of Israel, Israeli goods and services, Israeli artists, scientists and athletes in Germany. The all-encompassing call for a boycott leads The radical nature of the all-encompassing call for a boycott leads to the branding of Israeli citizens of the Jewish faith as a whole. This is unacceptable and must be strongly condemned.
The arguments and methods of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic.
The campaign's calls for a boycott of Israeli artists and the stickers on Israeli goods to discourage people from buying them are also reminiscent of the most horrific phase of German history. "Don't Buy" stickers of the BDS movement on Israeli products inevitably evoke associations with the Nazi slogan "Don't buy from Jews!" and corresponding graffiti on facades and shop windows.
The German Bundestag condemns all anti-Semitic statements and attacks,
which are formulated as supposed criticism of the policies of the State of Israel but are in fact an expression of hatred towards Jewish people and their religion, and will resolutely oppose them.

Now back to the appeal to ban Israel from the Olympics. Keeping quiet does not help. You have to deal with it. Above all, international sport has to deal with it. But that is not really happening.

The appeal begins with the request:

"Sign the petition launched by DiEM25 to suspend Israel from participation in all international sports until it fully complies with international law and sports regulations, including banning Israel from competing at the 2024 Paris Olympics."

Then follows:

"The Israeli offensive on Gaza has claimed the lives of 26,706 civilians, including 11,422 infants and children."

Israel is then described as an "occupying apartheid regime".

It states:

"The International Olympic Committee, FIFA, UEFA, FIBA, and other sports organisations are complicit as they allow a continuous participation of the occupying apartheid regime in their events. Following a swift response and an instant suspension of Russia, it is now difficult for them to justify turning a blind eye to the Israeli government's actions."

The demands are as follows:

  • An immediate suspension of Israel from participation in all international sports until it fully complies with international law and sports regulations
  • For global and European sports governing bodies to immediately uphold their statutory obligations - especially their own rules on human rights and non-discrimination given Russian, South African and other precedents. This would include, inter alia, a ban on Israel competing at the 2024 Paris Olympics, FIFA World Cup, and UEFA's EURO.

At first glance, it is astonishing what is being mixed up: Russia's war, South Africa, Israel "and other precedents".

But not everything has anything to do with each other.

It is also highly astonishing that neither this resolution nor other opinion pieces I have read by journalistic and academic activists take a minimum of facts into account.

These facts include, first of all:

  1. Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014. The war in western Ukraine has been raging ever since.
  2. Russia began its campaign of destruction in other parts of Ukraine in February 2022.
  3. Hamas terrorists invaded Israel on 7 October and murdered more than 1,000 civilians.

A war of aggression here. An (exaggerated) defence campaign there.

Hamas is a terrorist organisation, not a state actor.

Don't you think that's important?

Is it so difficult to take such basics into account in an argument?

I don't want to simplify anything here. Even if I don't think much of the conflation of the Russia issue and Israel's Olympic ban, I would still like to point this out:

  1. Ukraine's enemies in the Kremlin are striving to destroy Ukraine.
  2. The enemies of Israel are endeavouring to destroy Israel.

These are facts. This can be stated without approving of Benjamin Netanyahu's policy and warfare.

Offsetting the innocent victims among the civilian population is also pointless in this context. It is dishonest to deal with casualty figures and to derive claims from them, if some, then others ... this is also one of the classic manifestations of whataboutism.

The petition paper states, among other things:

"Israel's decades-long occupation, apartheid regime, economic repression, murders and arrests of athletes, and many other illegal actions have prevented the development of sport in OPT. Israeli sports associations have also played their role, as described below. (...) Turning a blind eye to the brutal Israeli regime, the actions of the Israeli sport associations, and effect it has on Palestinian athletes and sport is no longer acceptable. The example from football is detailed below, but all sports in OPT suffer from the same issues and human rights violations."

Passages like this in the paper, which calls for Israel to be banned but then goes on to cast doubt on the problems of Ukrainian athletes caused by Putin's war of aggression, are quite strange:

"The IOC did not specify in which way were Ukrainian athletes prevented from participating and by whom. Athletes could travel through five out of seven European countries that share a border with Ukraine and were not required to join the army. In a more obvious case of travel restrictions placed on athletes from OPT, and constant military attacks on their territories including sports infrastructure, killings and arrests, there is no concern about equality in IOC."

These and other pamphlets are a bizarre mix of whataboutism, ideology, religion and, that too, signs of anti-Semitism.

Some wield the apartheid club. I am tempted not to wield the club of anti-Semitism in this argument. Although I am very much of the opinion that anti-Semitism resonates in many places.

A very brief review:

Incidentally, there are reasons why Israel – although geographically located in Asia – has been affiliated to European sports federations for decades. Israeli athletes have been boycotted for more than half a century – and in some cases still are.

As early as the qualifiers for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, the historically unique and absurd situation arose in which Israel – then still a member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) – prevailed in Asia and Africa without having played a single match.

At that time, Asia and Africa still organised a joint qualifying round. Turkey did not face Israel in the group stage. Sudan, Egypt and Indonesia did not play Israel in the second round. In the so-called final round, Sudan again did not play Israel.

FIFA then ordered deciding matches against Wales because no nation should go to the World Cup finals without a sporting clash. Israel lost twice 0:2 against the Welsh.

You all know that there are countless other examples of Israeli teams and athletes being boycotted.

To stay with football: The Asian Football Confederation finally excluded Israel in 1974 after some Arab states again refused to compete against Israel at the Asian Games in Tehran – two years after the massacre by the Palestinian terrorist organisation Black September on the Israeli team at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

In the meantime, Israel was assigned to the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC). In Europe, in UEFA, it was primarily the Eastern Bloc that prevented Israel from joining – and that brings us back to the political and ideological background, anti-Semitism and the problems of the so-called left.

Israel only became a member of UEFA at the beginning of the 1990s – after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.

These are just a few examples from one sport. No more, but also no less.

I don't know whether all those who shout apartheid and mean Israel know about it. Whether they know and want to recognise it.

Israel's National Olympic Committee, founded in 1933, was recognised by the IOC in 1952. Israel had also been a member of the Asian Games Federation since 1952 - and was excluded in 1981 in the process of restructuring and founding the Olympic Council Asia (OCA). Israel's NOC has been a member of the European Olympic Committees (EOC) since 1994.

Running away from the problems

It is true – as of today – that the actions of the major sports organisations such as the IOC, FIFA and almost all international governing bodies are unconvincing. It will not be possible to sit out this major problem.

The argumentative trick that the IOC, FIFA, UEFA and others used in 2022, at the beginning of Putin's war of annihilation, to at least partially exclude Russian teams and athletes was that the safety of the athletes and the integrity of the competition could not be guaranteed.

To be honest, referring to the Olympic Charter doesn't get us anywhere either. This is because the IOC always interprets the Charter in different ways, just as it needs to. The fact that Russia has broken the so-called Olympic Truce, which has always been exaggerated by the IOC and the United Nations, three times was apparently of little interest to Thomas Bach until February 2022.

A German IOC president will never exclude Israel from the Olympic Games. And this despite the fact that Thomas Bach has been the chairman of the dubious Arab-German lobby organisation called Ghorfa for many years, which helps companies to guarantee that their products do not contain anything from Israel. Bach is still the honorary president of Ghorfa.

However, UEFA is not saving itself permanently by moving Israel's play-off matches for EURO 2024 and hoping that Israel does not qualify.

The IOC will not be able to deny the ever-increasing risk of a terrorist attack during the Olympic Games in Paris forever, especially but not exclusively during the opening ceremony. In the Paris 2024 Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and at the highest political and diplomatic level, completely different discussions are taking place.

It can be assumed that Bach at least addressed the situation during his brief visit to Doha at his meeting with his IOC colleague Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani. Qatar is one of the most important financial supporters of the terrorist organisation Hamas. Qatar now wants to further establish itself as a mediator in the Middle East conflict.

Sport cannot solve anything in armed conflicts. But sport can and must articulate itself more clearly. Running away from the problems only makes them worse. There is also no point in repeating the historical consensus of never again and the memory of the Holocaust over and over again like a prayer wheel.

Those who do not even begin to find answers and remain silent for months on end only make it easier for those enemies of democracy who mix the enormous suffering of war victims with ideology, falsification of history, religion and whataboutism.