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Article by Dr Shimon Samuels published in The Times of Israel
18 May 2022

In a letter to Andreas Zagklis, Secretary-General of FIBA (International Basketball Federation) and Juan Maria Aburto Rique, Mayor of Bilbao, Wiesenthal Centre Director for International Relations, Dr Shimon Samuels, expressed outrage in regard to Sunday’s attack on Israeli basketball fans by a so-called ‘pro-Palestinian’ group in Bilbao, Spain. The victims included children with their parents on their way to the stadium. The Hapoel Holon fans had come to Bilbao for an international basketball match against German MHP RiesenLudwigsburg.

The letter stressed: “This is not the first time Israeli fans visiting Spain have been targeted!”

The Centre recalled, having developed, in partnership with ECCAR (European Coalition of Cities Against Racism), and its 158 member municipalities, an ‘11-Point Programme Against Hate in Sport’. This has been expanded across Latin America as a project of the OAS (Organization of American States). Our work with the Argentine Football Association (AFA) was recognized as a ‘best practice’ by FIFA (International Football Federation).

The price to pay for racist fans and their clubs – silent particularly in the face of anti-indigenous chants and violence – was to have their club dropped to last place on their respect. We call upon FIBA to adopt our ‘11-Point Programme’, that would apply the same penalty to racist fans and clubs remaining silent, in the case of hate and violence against foreign or visiting supporters.

Besides addressing FIBA, the letter likewise urged the Mayor of Bilbao “to apologize to the visiting Israeli fans and families… and to take measures regarding the reported slow counter action of the Bilbao police force in this specific case. The situation on Sunday could have degenerated tragically! At both the government and municipal levels, there must be an investigation into the identity of the aggressors.

The letter highlighted how “the Basque Country and Spain have already been victims of ETA terrorism for decades. Al-Qaeda has left its murderous trail across the peninsula in 2004 and 2017”.

It would be catastrophic if Hamas and ISIS were to consider this region and Spain in general, as a soft target for their terrorist activities in Europe. They have already threatened attacks on Jewish institutions in France, triggering a call for heightened police alertness.

Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. Mayor, attacks on Israeli sport fans must not be a test-run for potential terrorists… with the risk of escalating into a new wave of mayhem in Spain or elsewhere in Europe.

Shimon Samuels is Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He has served as Deputy Director of the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, European Director of ADL, and Israel Director of AJC. He was born in UK and studied in UK, Israel, U.S. and Japan.