A Small Sacrifice For a Great Cause

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The ongoing bridge-disaster saga between the Australian Jewish community and the Maccabi World Union seems to have reached an impasse.

This is paradoxical because there is now every hope that with the intervention of Finance Minister Avraham Shohat, the legal obstacles preventing a resolution of the outstanding compensation issues will be overcome.

However, the arrogance bordering on thuggery that Maccabi World Union representatives continue to display represents the main barrier preventing the closure of this tragic episode.

When I addressed the Knesset “Committee of Inquiry into the Maccabiah Tragedy,” I said that had the victims been Israelis – or even Americans – the MWU would not have dared to behave in such a despicable manner. The Maccabi representatives and their apologists would never have had the hutzpa to tell Israelis that the Maccabi president and chairman were no more accountable for the tragedy than a minister of defense who remained in office when soldiers were killed in battle.

More than any other people, Israelis appreciate the sanctity of human life.

The Australians who died or were injured in the last Maccabiah should have been safer than in their own homes. Yet they were not the victims of a terrorist attack. The disaster was indisputably a direct consequence of the cheap and shoddy shortcuts employed by those appointed by the MWU to build the bridge.

The blatant refusal by the MWU leadership to accept any responsibility or accountability for this disaster is outrageous. It is therefore not surprising that the Australian Jewish community has decided that unless the MWU president, Ronald Bakalarz, and the chairman, Uzi Netanel, at least demonstrate a token of liability by either resigning or suspending themselves from office, Australian Jewry will not participate at the next Maccabiah.

IT IS surely somewhat grotesque that the third largest contingent at the last Maccabiah – representing one of the most devoted Zionist communities in the Diaspora – will not participate because the two principal WMU office bearers are obsessively determined to cling to their pride come what may.

It also says something about their commitment to Jewish sport, not to mention a lack of compassion and sensitivity, when Maccabi leaders adamantly refuse to take account of the enraged and anguished calls by the relatives of those killed or injured in the course of events for which they were ultimately responsible.

However, the situation has now become even more ugly – in all likelihood affecting the standing of the Olympic team.

The chairman of the Israeli Olympic committee happens to be a member of the MWU committee. He is in no way personally accountable for the Maccabiah bridge disaster. But if the Australian Jewish boycott of the Maccabiah proceeds, he will inevitably be asked unpleasant questions, face a critical if not hostile Australian media, and possibly even have to contend with local demonstrations against the Israeli Olympic team. This would certainly be exploited in Australia by enemies of Israel. In short, if Bakalarz and Netanel remain stubborn, the image of Israel at the Australian Olympiad could be tarnished.

HERE IS my message to the president and chairman of the MWU: Set aside the questions of accountability, compassion, and decency. Be pragmatic. Are you really determined to hang on to your positions even if this ruins the next Maccabiah and creates negative waves in Australia against the Israeli Olympic team?

Never mind whether you are right or wrong. In the interest of international Jewish sport, for the sake of future Maccabiot, and to avoid embarrassing and possibly tarnishing the Israel Olympic team when they visit Australia, do the right thing. Walk away. In the context of this terrible disaster, is that such a sacrifice to make?

Such a move would represent an important step forward in closing this tragic chapter in the history of the Maccabi movement. It will also hopefully initiate a healing process with the Australian Jewish community – not to mention easing (if only somewhat) the pain and suffering of those whose relatives were killed or injured in a disaster that should have been avoided.

In the national interest, I urge you to make the move now before the impending visit to Israel of the Australian prime minister.

The writer, a long-standing leader of the Australian Jewish community before moving to Israel, is currently chairman of the Governing Board of the World Jewish Congress.

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