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South African rugby union withdraws invitation to Israeli team after calls for boycott

The withdrawal came after the South African BDS Coalition expressed outrage and called rugby union's invite 'embarrassing'
The Tel Aviv Heat won a game to advance to the Rugby European Super Cup Finals (Tel Aviv Heat Instagram)

The South Africa Rugby Union (SARU) withdrew its invitation for the Israeli rugby team to play in a challenge after criticism that it was an “overtly racist move”. 

The Tel Aviv Heat, an Israel-based rugby team, was scheduled to compete with four international teams and six South African teams in the Mzansi Challenge that is set to begin on 24 March, Rugby365 reported.

Following the invitation of the team, groups such as the South African BDS Coalition - an affiliate of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions global movement - were outraged and called SARU to disinvite the “apartheid” team. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, BDS works for "freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians" and pressures "Israel to comply with international law".

“It is incredulous that a post-apartheid South African rugby organisation chooses to invite a team from a settler colonial state that continues to occupy Palestinian land, and uphold a brutal system of apartheid against Palestinians,” the South African BDS Coalition said in a statement.

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The coalition cited reports from organisations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, detailing Israel’s crimes against Palestinians. A total of 35 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces and settlers in January, making it the deadliest month for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2015.

“We, South Africans, have a political and moral duty to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against apartheid and cut diplomatic, trade, academic, cultural and sporting ties with apartheid Israel,” the statement read.

“Anger with SARUS’s decision is building across the world. SARU is embarrassing post-apartheid South Africa through this overtly racist move and exposing its true colours – those of the old South African flag. If this apartheid Israeli team comes to play in South Africa, SARU will have blood on its hands.”

Later on Friday, SARU withdrew its invitation. The Mexican Rhinos have been earmarked to replace Tel Aviv Heat, pending approval from the General Council.

“We have listened to the opinions of important stakeholder groups and have taken this decision to avoid the likelihood of the competition becoming a source of division, notwithstanding the fact that Israel is a full member of World Rugby and the IOC,” Mark Alexander, president of SARU, said in a statement.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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