Jerusalem boxing and the BBC
We are used to the treatment Palestinians receive in the media.
We usually only hear about Palestinians when they are causing trouble for the Israelis and are having to be punished using disproportionate measures as a result. Or we hear that the ‘peace process’ has broken down and a Palestinian “spokesperson” (we are indeed lucky if we are told the name of this ethereal person) might manage to have their brief statement read out by a benevolent newscaster whilst Israeli propagandist-at-large, Mark Rhegev gets a few minutes to put his case directly to the viewer.
Recently, though, the BBC published an article about a boxing club in Jerusalem which reveals the multiple fallacies the media propagates about Israel, whilst apparently trying to dispel them.
The article lauds the existence of the Jerusalem boxing club as a a vehicle to promote tolerance between the different communities in Israel. A single line reveals both the truth and the lie of the story:
Ethiopian, Russian and Orthodox Jews all come here, as do Palestinians from East Jerusalem.
Israel is known as a ‘Jewish’ state. It can apparently overcome the dichotomy of being both a ‘Jewish’ as well as a ‘democratic’ state. And yet, the best example of this, after decades of Israel enforcing the ‘Law of Return' for Jews around the world to emigrate to Israel, is a boxing club which - gasp! - sees Ethiopian, Russian, and Orthodox Jews all train in the same place!
It is well known that whilst on the face of it, the Jews of Israel share a religion, there is a deep segregation even between Jews of different ethnic backgrounds within Israel. The BBC article never alludes to this directly, but why point out that Jews of different backgrounds train at the Gym? Why is that even newsworthy? It is almost the same as saying that English, Scottish and Welsh people train at a club in London. It would be total non-news. But apparently not in Israel where, it seems, is Jewish, though some are more Jewish than others.
The BBC article tells us of Christina Stadnik, a 17-year-old Jewish girl who, having moved to Israel from the Ukraine, “is one of the club’s star members, having twice won championships in Israel.”
For her, the club is more than just a place to train.
"Ever since I arrived in Israel, I have spent most of my time with other Russian-Jewish people," she says.
"I never thought I’d talk to other Israeli people or Arabs as I hated them when I came here. But then I met people in this boxing club, and all of them, no matter whether they are Russian or Arab, are nice."
The basic story of Christina Stadnik is not uncommon. Russian Jews have a long history of being treated as second class citizens in Israel which continues to this day.
But the real shame in this story is that, whilst it purports to highlight that “Palestinians from East Jerusalem” go to the club, in fact, only one can be found to support this claim, and he apparently didn’t want to be photographed. No matter, there are lots of other people to be photographed for the article, though none of them, apparently, are Palestinian.
We hear the story of Gershon Luxembourg - who runs the club along with his brother, and who’s son, Ariel also features in the article - who took up boxing in whilst in Uzbekistan to defend himself against attacks “because we were Jews”.
Clearly, Luxembourg was the victim of heinous discrimination. One wonders if Luxembourg would accept a similar statement from a person defending themselves against an attack “because we were Palestinians”?
So, we see that whilst the BBC intends this article to be about overcoming prejudice and promoting tolerance, it’s vary nature shows how deeply prejudice and intolerance is engrained into Israeli society. The token Palestinian gets a few lines in order to lend some sort of legitimacy to the whole enterprise, whilst the Jewish subjects of the article clearly dominate the narrative.
Perhaps the most telling evidence that this boxing club promotes very little understanding amongst the Israelis and Palestinians is that the club goes out of it’s way to support the Orthodox Jewish boxers:
…running a club for such a diverse group of boxers can be challenging.
The fact that most boxing tournaments take place on a Saturday poses a problem for those Orthodox boxers who observe the Sabbath, when Jews are required to rest and refrain from any work.
Yet the trainers have found a way around this.
"The Orthodox boxers arrive at the tournament [location] on the Friday," explains Ariel, the son of the one of the instructors, as driving is prohibited.
"Since the Orthodox boxers can’t even take the tournament gloves from the hotel to the boxing ring [as carrying objects on the Sabbath is not allowed], we bring the gloves to them…
"All they need to do is get into the boxing ring, put the gloves on, box, and take them off. That’s it."
Why would one not expect one Jew to support another? Especially within the context of a sporting club. Sporting success is often built around sacrifice and teamwork, and the example of the Orthodox boxers being supported by others is a great example of this.
We are curious though, what does the club sacrifice to support the Palestinians (who are not necessarily Muslims) within it’s midst? Does it demonstrate teamwork when it’s Palestinian members are stopped for hours at checkpoints? Or have their homes demolished? Or human rights abused on a daily basis?
Even the boxers say that beyond the Jerusalem boxing club, they don’t spend time with people from different ethnic or religious backgrounds.
"Most of us live in closed communities [so] this is a great place to get some perspective," says Ariel.
Is ‘closed communities’ a new code phrase for illegal settlement?
The BBC, whilst trying to demonstrate some dim sliver of hope for the different communities in Israel ‘tolerating’ each other, have spectacularly succeeded in highlighting just how segregated the communities are.
Whilst we wish the Jerusalem boxing club well, we don’t think it could rightfully be used to demonstrate that Israelis and Palestinians are somehow coming to terms with each other.