Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seized on an incident at a wrestling tournament to make a statement about Israel and Iran’s lack of engagement. Last week while representing Iran at a freestyle wrestling World Championship tournament in Poland, Alireza Karimi purposely lost his match against Russian Alikhan Zhabrailov. He did so to avoid an uncomfortable, and highly political, incident.
Karimi was winning his bout with Zhabrailov, before his coaches ordered him to lose. The young wrestler seemed to ignore the requests at first, but eventually decided to let his Russian opponent win.
Karimi’s coaches wanted him to lose because, during the contest, they found out that a victory would mean he would be matched-up against Uri Kalashnikov in the next round. Kalashnikov is Israeli, and Iran ‘forbids’ its athletes to compete against Israelis, according to Thomas Erdbrink, the Tehran bureau chief for The New York Times.
You can see the moment Karimi threw the match below, via Erdbrink on Twitter.
Iranian wrestler Alireza Karimi about to beat Russian, but will have to face Israeli next round. His coach his calling him from the sidelines, telling him to “lose.” Iran forbids its athletes to play Israeli’s. Iranian wrestler gives up. pic.twitter.com/nX9KHaH8Jn— Thomas Erdbrink (@ThomasErdbrink) November 27, 2017
After the tournament, which was won by Karimi’s Russian opponent, the Iranian wrestler spoke to Iran’s semi-official Iranian Student News Agency. With that outlet he expressed his sadness at not being able to compete, saying “In a moment, my world seemed to come to an end.”
This week, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seized on the incident to make a point about Iran and Israel relations, or lack thereof.
In a video message from the country’s official PM of Israel twitter account, the leader stated, “I never imagined I’d say this, but I think Iran’s hostility to Israel can be summed up by the experience of a single Iranian wrestler named Alireza.”
I never imagined I’d say this… pic.twitter.com/vcjk7i0a6Q— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) December 4, 2017
Netanyahu’s statement then recapped the incident before claiming that Iran’s regime, “calls for the destruction of all Israelis.” Netanyahu’s statement also celebrated Alireza and said that Israel would promote the “kind of coexistence and tolerance that Iran tries so hard to stamp out.”
Netanyahu then asked viewers to play sports with people from different backgrounds and upload the footage.
Israel and Iran did have formal diplomatic relations soon after Israel was established in 1948. However, after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Iran cut those ties and declared they no longer recognized Israel as a sovereign state. Relations between the two countries have been virtually non-existent ever since.
Iran’s official line on Israel is, as once expressed by then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that the nation is a “regime occupying Jerusalem.” In that statement Ahmadinejad also called for Israel to “vanish from the arena of time” (per The Washington Post).
Not including the violent rhetoric, some of Iran’s contentions regarding Israel are shared by many territories represented at the United Nations. For example, UN Resolution A/RES/70/141 recognizing the right of Palestinian people to self-determination was accepted by 170 member states on November 23rd, 2015. There were six no-votes on the resolution. Four states abstained from voting.
That resolution stated that, “the construction of the wall by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, along with measures previously taken, severely impedes the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.”
Those no votes came from Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and the United States.
That session of the UN included a number of other votes pertaining to Israel and Palestine; including a resolution to assist Palestinian refugees. Israel voted no on this resolution. All other members (other than 10 who abstained) voted yes.