ISRAEL: Jerusalem Marathon runs into politics

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When Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat invited people to participate in the Jerusalem Marathon, he called it a ‘challenging sporting event.’ Still 100 days away, the city’s first full marathon is already giving the mayor -- a five-time marathoner himself -- a run for his money.

After someone pointed out to three city council members that the course ran through parts of East Jerusalem, they sent a letter of protest to Adidas, one of the international event’s main sponsors.


The officials, Meretz members Pepe Alalu, Laura Wharton and Meir Margalit, said they felt it was their duty to inform Adidas that the marathon was ‘to run through parts of East Jerusalem that are considered occupied territories by the international community and by us.’

‘The overwhelming majority of the general population abroad will doubtless express their opposition once details of the marathon are made public,’ the letter said.

That’s all it took. Adidas asked for ‘clarifications’ about the course, and, according to the Hebrew daily Maariv, was considering removing its sponsorship for fear of a consumer boycott.

The Israeli contingent of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement hit the ground running too, appealing to Adidas to cancel its sponsorship. ‘Don’t help running Apartheid,’ it said, calling on the company to withdraw support for the current route or ‘any revised one,’ so as not to support the Jerusalem municipality that ‘routinely organizes house evictions and demolitions in East Jerusalem.’

Council member Alalu told the Jerusalem Post that ‘a marathon doesn’t bring Jews and Arabs together; this is just an aggressive move.’

And Elisha Peleg, who handles the city’s sports affairs, said that if the route didn’t pass through East Jerusalem, there would be complaints that half the city’s residents were being ignored. Besides, he said, East Jerusalem is part of Jerusalem -- ‘that’s not political, it’s factual.’ Israel annexed the Old City, seized from Jordan -- as well as urban and rural areas to the north, east and south that are now generically known as East Jerusalem -- shortly after the 1967 war. The international community overwhelmingly rejects Israel’s position on the matter.


Peleg said the course wouldn’t be changed, and a notice from the organizers posted on a runners forum assured the athletes (in Hebrew) in no uncertain terms that the marathon would go ahead as planned under the Adidas sponsorship and that any changes -- if there were any -- would be minor and not affect the ‘amazing course.’

The three council members also approached other sponsors, including the Marker, a business paper affiliated with the liberal Haaretz daily. Council member Meir Margalit told a Jerusalem magazine that left-wingers would campaign against the Shoken newsgroup, which publishes both. ‘This will be painful,’ he said.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Top: Publicity video for the marathon, via YouTube.

Bottom: Part of the race course, from the International Jerusalem Marathon website.