Israeli baseball team capitalizes on Jewish identity, builds winning team

posted in: 2016-2017, Opinion | 0
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Ross Tanenbaum
For the Mitzpeh
@terrapins360

(Photo:flickr.com)
Former Team Israel manager Brad Ausmus visits with former Israeli president Shimon Peres in 2012 (Photo:flickr.com)

Team Israel has been shocking other countries in the World Baseball Classic, but what might be even more shocking is its roster.

The World Baseball Classic began on March 6, and the Israeli national team has already put on a great show. It was ranked No. 41 going into the tournament, and beat No. 3 South Korea, No. 4 Chinese Taipei, and No. 9 Netherlands to win Pool A and move on to the second round.

However, is it really team Israel that has been so successful, or a second team USA?

Team Israel is composed of mostly American players. According to a March 5 article from Yahoo.com, only two of the players on the team possess Israeli passports, and some of the players have not even visited Israel before. The majority of its players are Jewish Americans, as most of these players have minor and major league baseball experience. The WBC rules state that anyone who is eligible for citizenship in a country has the ability to represent that country in the tournament. Since Israeli law states that anyone who is Jewish or has ties to Judaism can become a citizen, Israel can have any Jewish player on its team.

Some think, however, the WBC should do something to address this loophole, considering this rule.

“It gives Israel an unfair advantage,” freshman mechanical engineering major Aaron Seldowitz said. “It allows Israel to give citizenship to whoever they want, as long as they are Jewish.”

Israel does have a slight advantage in this case. Israel can recruit any person from any country if that person is Jewish, which means that it could bring great baseball players from around the world.

“It gives players like Ike Davis, Sam Fuld and Jason Marquis opportunities in a format like this, because they would never make Team USA,” freshman engineering major CJ Snow said. “These players are MLB quality players, but they’re not necessarily all-stars.”

This situation also brings up the question of Judaism as a religion versus Judaism as an ethnicity because these rules make it seem like Jews and Israelis are interchangeable. Many people often assume that because someone is from Israel, they must be Jewish, but that’s not always true. Israel has a fairly large Muslim population of  14 percent. Also, anyone could be Jewish if they really wanted to, because Judaism is a religion, not an ethnicity. Israeli Jews and American Jews have two very different cultures.

“People can get confused between the Jewish religious state and a Jewish ethnic state,” freshman computer science major Tom Casey said. “Anybody can be Jewish, but not everybody can be Israeli.”

Israel is commonly seen as the country of the Jews, but not all Jews see themselves as Israeli. Team Israel should be represented by people who associate with the culture and heritage of Israel, instead of people who just have similar beliefs to a lot of the people in Israel. This regulation should be the same for every country that plays in the WBC.

If Israel did not have Jewish players from other countries on their team, however, Israel would not be in a winning position right now. Baseball is not  popular in Israel, so Israel is not typically seen as a threat in the sport. It is nice to see a team that is represented by Jewish players, because Jewish players are normally underrepresented in athletics. However, it would also be nice to see a team that represents the Israeli people and not just the Jews. Israel is a fairly diverse country, and those who represent the country should be people who are Israeli citizens, not just those who can be citizens due to religion. 

Ross is a freshman English major. He can be reached at Terrapins360@gmail.com.

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