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Olympian and Coach Withdrew from Games to Avoid Facing Israeli - Now They've Been Suspended

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An Algerian judo athlete and his coach have been temporarily suspended after withdrawing from the Olympics to avoid competing against an Israeli.

Fethi Nourine and his coach Amar Benikhlef will be placed under suspension pending an investigation by the International Judo Federation, according to a Saturday news release.

The IJF said it made the decision “based on the official recorded declarations of both Fethi Nourine and Amar Benikhlef, that were published in the media and that are in total opposition to the philosophy of the International Judo Federation.”

“Judo sport is based on a strong moral code, including respect and friendship, to foster solidarity and we will not tolerate any discrimination, as it goes against the core values and principles of our sport.”

According to the Middle East Eye, Nourine announced his decision to withdraw from the Tokyo Games on Thursday, a day before the opening ceremony.

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Nourine pulled out after learning that he could potentially compete against Israel’s Tohar Butbul in the second round of competition.

The judoka told Algerian media that he made the decision in support of the “Palestinian cause,” the Eye reported.

“We have worked hard to qualify for the Games, but the Palestinian cause is bigger than all that. My position is consistent on the Palestinian issue, and I reject normalization [with Israel], and if it cost me that absence from the Olympic Games, God will compensate,” Nourine said.

“We were unlucky with the draw. We got an Israeli opponent and that’s why we had to retire. We made the right decision,” Nourine’s coach added, according to the Eye.

Nourine also withdrew from the 2019 Judo World Championships to avoid having to face an Israeli judoka, the Eye reported.

Jerusalem Post columnist Emily Schrader denounced Nourine’s withdrawal from the Games, calling it “pathetic and the very opposite of the Olympic spirit” in a Friday tweet.

“And so it begins! The racism that just won’t die. Whilst more and more Arab & African Muslim countries rush to embrace [Israel], some still stuck in backward racist mentality,” human rights lawyer and political analyst Arsen Ostrovsky tweeted in response to the news on Saturday.

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Anti-Israel social media users praised Nourine for his decision.

“It is an anti-apartheid boycott. This is a huge and meaningful sacrifice,” one user wrote on Twitter.

“Imagine the sacrifice of giving up your space in the Olympics, after years of sweat, blood and tears, in the name of justice for another people. Respect to Fethi Nourine,” journalist Lubna Hamdan tweeted on Friday.

Algeria does not recognize the state of Israel and Israeli passport holders are denied access to the country. The northern African country has supported and armed Palestinian militants.

In April, the IJF hit Iran with a four-year ban over a scheme whereby an Iranian athlete was “required to lose before even getting to the point where he had to face an Israeli athlete.”

At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, an Egyptian judoka left the competition after refusing to shake hands with an Israeli opponent, according to the Eye.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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