Human rights groups and others call on Giro d’Italia to abandon Israel start

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Next year’s planned start of the Giro d’Italia in Israel has come under pressure with the news that over 120 separate groups have called on organisers RCS Sport to move the race to another location.

The groups are protesting the decision to hold the race’s prestigious Grande Partenza [Big Start] in Jerusalem, with a 10.1 kilometre time trial taking place there on May 4. Two road stages will following, racing to Tel Aviv and Eilat respectively.

September’s announcement about the Grande Partenza already led to criticism from groups such as the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which said the event represents a “sports-washing of Israel’s occupation and apartheid.”

On Wednesday the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine [ECCP] sought to ratchet up the pressure in a statement about the groups protesting the race location.

“The signatories stress that holding the Giro d’Italia in Israel will both cover up Israel’s military occupation and discrimination against Palestinians and increase Israel’s sense of impunity, encouraging continued denial of Palestinians’ UN-stipulated rights,” it said in that statement.

“Giro d’Italia is working with Israeli company Comtec Group, the organizer the “Big Start” event, which has activities in illegal Israeli settlements. In official race imagery, maps and videos, Giro d’Italia is deceptively portraying East Jerusalem, which has been under Israeli military occupation for fifty years, as if it were part of Israel and the unified capital of the State of Israel.

“The final stage planned for southern Israel will pass by dozens of Palestinian Bedouin villages Israel refuses to recognize or provide with ‘the most basic of services, including electricity, water, clinics, schools and roads,’ one of which Israel has demolished over 100 times.”

It said that signatories included the famous linguist Noam Chomsky, who has been an outspoken political voice for decades, former United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Palestinian rights John Dugard and Richard Falk, Italian playwright Moni Ovadia, European Parliament members Eleonora Forenza and Sergio Cofferati, and former vice president of European Parliament Luisa Morgantini.

It said other signatories include human rights organizations, trade unions, ethical tourism associations, plus sports and faith-based groups from over 20 countries. These include the Jewish groups Jewish Voice for Peace in the US, Union of Progressive Jews in Belgium, Italian Network Jews Against the Occupation, Jews for Justice for Palestinians UK.

ECCP notes that the official race presentation is set for November 29 in Milan, a date which coincides with the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

ECCP also stated that May 2018 will mark the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, when approximately 800,000 indigenous Palestinians were forcibly removed or fled from their homeland.

The region has been an area of controversy and conflict for many decades, with numerous UN resolutions criticising Israel.

However in an interview with CyclingTips due to run later this week, Canadian billionaire Sylvan Adams has rejected any criticism of the Giro start. He played a major role in securing the race hosting, and is also a founder of the Israel Cycling Academy team.

“I think you need a fertile imagination to call it anything than a purely positive story,” he said, rejecting claims of apartheid. “And frankly, that’s not the Jerusalem that I know and visit all the time, and get served in hotels and restaurants by Arabs who work disproportionately in the service industry in Jerusalem. And we all seem to get along.”

He similarly dismissed any suggestions that the race should have visited Palestine.

“Listen, this is a Giro in Israel. It’s not a Giro of Palestine. So, if they want to do a joint project with us in the future, we’ll talk to them. But this is the Giro in Israel. It’s like asking, you know, when they did the Giro start in Holland, well why didn’t Belgium get involved? Because it’s a different country. That’s why.”

Adams has said that the race is a chance to show off what he terms ‘normal Israel,’ and said that he considers sport and politics shouldn’t mix.

Wednesday’s statement by ECCP mentioned Adam’s team, saying that days before the race takes place, it ‘will participate in a race through occupied East Jerusalem to the illegal settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev.’

The ECCP has urged RCS “to move the start of the race to another country to ensure no involvement in Israeli violations of international law and Palestinian human rights.” It said that RCS, the participating teams and the sponsors could face legal consequences and reputational damage “stemming from collaborating with Israeli institutions and companies involved in violations of human rights and international law.”

Meanwhile it said that Palestinian civil society groups have written to Pope Francis urging him to reject the invitation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to launch the race in Israel next year.

The ECCP said that he should not “lend [his] name in any way to the 2018 Giro d’Italia cycling race because of its unfortunate insistence on whitewashing Israel’s military occupation and grave human rights violations.”

Adams may argue that sport and politics should not mix, but hopes for a controversy-free build-up to the 2018 Giro d’Italia seem overly optimistic.

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