Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) submitted a complaint on August 15 to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) calling for disciplinary measures against the Chairman of the Palestine Olympic Committee Jibril Rajoub, for praising Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine for withdrawing from the competition rather than face an Israeli.
"In a fundamental breach of not only the Olympic spirit but also the Olympic Charter and Code of Ethics, the head of the Palestinian Olympics Committee, Jibril Rajoub has again praised an Olympic athlete for withdrawing from an Olympic competition in order not to face an Israeli opponent," PMW Director Itamar Marcus and Director of Legal Strategies Maurice Hirsch wrote in an letter addressed to the International Olympics Committee's Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer.
For the full text of the letter click here
On July 23rd, Nourine and his coach, Amar Benikhlef, told Algerian media they were withdrawing to avoid a possible second-round matchup with Israel's Tohar Butbul in the men's 73 kg division, citing what they called the Palestinian cause.
The International Judo Federation suspended Nourine and his coach, and they then lost their Algerian Olympic Committee accreditation.
On July 24th, Rajoub posted an audio clip of an interview he gave in Arabic to Algeria's Oran Radio a day earlier.
In the clip, Rajoub said, “There is no place for meeting with anyone who is connected to this official terror (i.e., Israel), not in sports and not outside of sports. I hope that this will be a message to all the Arabs who are normalizing and those who are rushing [towards normalizing ties with Israel],” according to the translation of the interview in the PMW's letter. Rajoub visited Nourine on July 25th.
In an ensuing Facebook post, Rajoub wrote, “This (i.e., Nourine refusing to compete against an Israeli) expresses the real and deep-rooted Algerian affiliation with Palestine, with the cause of Palestine. The best of blessings to the Algerian people and blessings to this great athlete [Nourine]. We wish you all the best, calmness, and stability,” according to the PMW translation.
"This is not the first such statement made by Rajoub," Marcus and Hirsch wrote in their letter of complaint. "Last year, Rajoub 'conveyed blessings to all the Arab athletes who have refused to compete with Israeli athletes' and demanded the implementation of a universal Arab boycott of Israel in sports," they wrote.
The boycott that Rajoub was championing was first proposed by the Executive Office of the Council of Arab Ministers for Youth and Sports. The proposal was to refuse to participate in any event that Israel hosted, to refuse to host an event in which Israeli groups participate, and for every Arab athlete to refuse to compete against an Israeli athlete.
Rajoub is also the head of the Palestinian Football Association and in the past campaigned to have FIFA, the international soccer association, boycott Israel. Following a PMW complaint, in 2018 FIFA fined Rajoub $20,000 and banned him from the association for inciting hatred and violence against Argentina, which had agreed to play a friendly match in Israel.
Rajoub “glorified terrorism,” encouraging soccer tournaments and teams to be named after Palestinian terrorists, and compared Israelis to “Satan and Nazis,” FIFA’s chief of investigations said at the time.
The punishment handed down by FIFA helped curtail the practice of walking out of matches against Israel, according to the PMW. The PMW argued however that contrary to FIFA, the IOC was not keeping by its own charter and code of ethics.
For example, Principle 4 of the IOC's "Fundamental Principles of Olympism" states, "The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play."
And Principle 6 states, "The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Olympic Charter shall be secured without discrimination of any kind, such as race, color, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."
Marcus and Hirsch argued that Rajoub's statements were a clear violation of these principles.
They also argued that Rajoub's statements violated the IOC's Code of Ethics Articles 1.1 - 1.4, which says:
"Respect for the universal fundamental ethical principles is the foundation of Olympism. These include:
- Respect for the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play;
- Respect of the principle of the universality and political neutrality of the Olympic Movement;
- Maintaining harmonious relations with state authorities, while respecting the principle of autonomy as set out in the Olympic Charter;
- Respect for international conventions on protecting human rights insofar as they apply to the Olympic Games’ activities and which ensure in particular: respect for human dignity, rejection of discrimination of any kind on whatever grounds, and rejection of all forms of harassment and abuse.
Rajoub's statements were a clear violation of the IOC Charter and Code of Ethics, Marcus and Hirsch argued.
They also wrote that these violations were not new.
"Three years ago, PMW submitted an extensive complaint against Rajoub to the IOC, but the IOC, unfortunately, ignored the writing on the wall and failed to take action against Rajoub," the letter said. "In November 2020, PMW submitted an additional complaint, when Rajoub used official Palestinian Olympic Committee stationery to condemn the 'crime of normalization' with Israel in the field of sports. Shamefully, the IOC ignored this complaint too," Marcus and Hirsch continued.
They concluded the letter with a forceful warning.
"As the IOC ignores the repeated breaches of its Charter and Code of Ethics by Rajoub and the Palestinian Olympic Committee, the Palestinian Authority celebrates the terrorists who carried out the 1972 Munich massacre of the Israeli Olympians and Rajoub refers with reverence to the planner of the attack, as one of the people who left the Palestinians a 'heritage'."
"Before the Rajoub’s hate speech leads to another massacre, it is time the IOC took firm action," the letter concluded.
Rajoub, 68, was a prominent figure in the PLO almost since its onset and was arrested numerous times on charges of acts of terrorism and belonging to a terrorist organization. He was close to former PLO head Yasser Arafat, even serving as his national security advisor in 2003