Posted by: israelembassysa | July 16, 2010

Israeli Sport Abroad

Supporting Israeli sportsmen and women abroad – By Ilan Solomons

We as the Jewish people have recently celebrated the miracle of the 62nd anniversary of the re-establishment of the State of Israel. We celebrate the fact that the Jewish people were able to rebuild a shattered nation just a few years after the greatest human catastrophe of modern human history! We celebrate the fact that Israel has overcome many wars against far stronger and better equipped enemies at times when she was most vulnerable. We even celebrate the great technological and scientific advancements that the small Jewish State has pioneered in fields as diverse as medicine to agriculture. All these are undoubtedly things very much worth celebrating and not to be taken lightly.
There is however another aspect of Israel that we can appreciate, that being Israel’s progress in the sporting arena.
Israel qualified for a soccer world cup in 1970, which was held in Mexico. It was even ranked as high as 15th in November 2008. It has produced some world class players including the likes of Ronnie Rosenthal, Chaim Revivo and in more recent times Yossi Benayoun. In basketball Maccabi Tel-Aviv has won the European championship 5 times (1977, 1981, 2001, 2004 and 2005). It is a sport which Israel is competitive at not only a national level but also at an international level.
I turn my attention now however to another sport which Israel has been relatively competitive in, and in this case it is tennis! Shahar Peer is a well known player on the women’s tour and has defeated some of the highest ranked players, which allowed her to reach as high as15th in the rankings back in 2007. On the men’s side of things the highest ranked Israeli was Shlomo Glickstein way back in 1982. From 2008 both the men’s and women’s teams have been playing in the top groups in Davis and Fed Cup respectively. This is a major achievement for a sport which is fairly low profile in Israel and not as well funded as more main stream sports like soccer and basketball. Which is why I was very excited earlier this year when I heard that two Israeli’s were coming to South Africa to play in the South African Open which was held at the make shift venue at Montecasino in Fourways.
The two players were Harel Levy and Noam Okun. Harel is undoubtedly the better known player, and higher ranked as was evident by the fact that Noam Okun had to qualify to play in the main draw, which he did successfully. It was fantastic to watch the guys and support them, even though both lost in the first round of the main draw it was for my friends and me, an awesome feeling that we could wear Israeli shirts and fly the Israeli flag openly at a major sports event in South Africa. Although the singles were over as far as the Israeli participation was concerned there was still the doubles. Harel Levy paired up with Slovak Karol Beck, the pair played incredibly well and made it to the final where they played Bopanna and Quereshi (who are a famous Indian-Pakistani doubles partnership). The game was a three set humdinger which ended in a 3rd set super tie break which saw the Indian-Pakistani combination victorious. It was still a major achievement for the Israeli player to be part of the runners up pair at the SA Open, in a draw that saw Levy and Beck overcome more fancied opposition.
In April 2010 I was made aware of another tennis tournament which was being held in South Africa, this time it was the Soweto Open which is held at the Arthur Ashe stadium in Soweto. Again I discovered that the Israeli players would be coming out, with the inclusion of another Israeli tennis player Jonathan Erhlich. Again Noam Okun had to qualify for the singles main draw, which again he did successfully. Levy this time made it to the second round. Okun did better and made it to the quarterfinals where he lost a tight three set encounter to the eventual winner of the tournament Dustin Brown from Jamaica. The Israeli doubles pairing of Erhlich and Levy made it to the Quarterfinals of the doubles where they lost in straight sets to the South African pairing of Klaasens and Van Der Merwe.
I think that the Israeli players did us proud overall and they did a lot better than could ever have been expected of them. The only unfortunate part of my attendance at these events was the very poor turn out of supporters of Israel. I honestly believe that a simple way of supporting Israel is by supporting her athletes by attending competitions that involve Israeli sportsmen and women. I think however that we should publicize such events by sending out emails or sms’s to inform the Jewish community and other supporters of Israel, at the least! I also feel that Jews and other supporters of Israel should make more of an effort to attend these events.
This not only serves to show Israeli’s that we support them no matter where they find themselves but also that we will not allow the racist and anti-Semitic groupings to isolate the citizens that represent Israel at an international level, through their various hypocritical and extremist campaigns. This simple way of supporting Israel is in no way political and is something that can be enjoyable and carries a powerful message to our Israeli brethren that they have supporters in as far off a place as South Africa! 
Ilan is studying journalism at Damelin College and is the National Liaison Officer for the South African Union of Jewish Students


  1. Impressive, Ilan!

  2. This is a good, strong article which I found really interesting.

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