Honda has changed the venue of a motorcycle racing event featuring star rider Joe Roberts that had been due to take place in an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.
Palestinians are welcoming the decision as a sign of the impact of their worldwide boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign to hold Israel accountable for its violations of their rights.
But they say it does not go far enough because the event will still be sponsored by Israel’s far-right sports ministry and will now take place in a city whose mayor is involved in human rights violations and inciting racism against refugees from African states.
They are asking Roberts to pull out of the event altogether.
“The announcement from Honda that the motor race it sponsors will no longer take place in an illegal Israeli settlement shows the BDS movement’s growing impact on international corporations that are complicit in Israel’s regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid,” Jamal Juma’, a member of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), told The Electronic Intifada.
“The efforts of BDS organizers in Japan and around the world through this campaign have put a dent in the Israeli government’s sportswashing policy, which uses sporting events to cover up its violations of Palestinians’ human rights.”
On Friday, the BNC had warned Honda that it could face “international boycotts” if it did not “end its sponsorship and association with this Israeli settler race.”
Japanese peace and human rights groups had also urged the motor giant to withdraw its participation in the event.
Over the weekend, Honda Israel abruptly announced that the event, scheduled for 23-24 February, was being relocated out of the West Bank, to Arad, a city in the southern Naqab region of present-day Israel.
Roberts told +972 Magazine that he had no idea he was due to be participating in an event in a settlement.
“I wasn’t given a lot of details in the beginning, other than that the track was in Israel,” Roberts wrote to the publication. “I would not have attended the event had it been in the West Bank.”
Separately, APEX Motorsport Agency, which represents the American, sent an unsolicited statement to The Electronic Intifada in response to our Friday article on the controversy.
Roberts “will NOT under any circumstances” be attending events at the track in the occupied West Bank, APEX’s Eitan Butbul stated.
The event had been scheduled to take place at a new track in the Petzael settlement in the northern Jordan Valley.
The Petzael track is built in a so-called “live firing zone,” a designation Israeli occupation forces use to forcibly displace indigenous Palestinian communities.
All of Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal under international law.
In an indication of the reputational damage that comes from any association with Israel’s military occupation and colonial settlements in the West Bank, APEX’s Butbul added, “we would like to ask [you] not to use his [Roberts’] name” in any further reporting on the Israeli event.
Yet moving the event out of the West Bank has not allayed the concerns of human rights defenders.
Far-right sports minister
The BNC’s Jamal Juma’ noted that the event will still be sponsored by Israel’s sports ministry.
The minister, Miri Regev, is notorious for her racist outburst comparing refugees from African states to “cancer,” and more recently for posting on Facebook a video of herself with a group of Israeli football fans inciting violence against Palestinians.
And Arad – the city where the Roberts event has been moved – is in an “area where Palestinian Bedouins are systematically expelled from their homes and their communities repeatedly destroyed,” Juma’ stated.
Moreover, the mayor of Arad, Nissan Ben Hamo, announced in 2015 that he would not permit Africans to move to his city and posted police at the town’s entrances with instructions to stop them from coming in.
“We urge Honda to end its sponsorship of the race as the only way to steer clear of complicity in Israel’s displacement of Palestinians and human rights violations. Honda must also refuse any association with the far-right Israeli government and its sportswashing of Israeli apartheid policies,” the BNC’s Juma’ said.
“We call in particular on Joe Roberts to withdraw from the race as Israel is blatantly using his good name to sportswash its crimes and blatant violations of human rights.”
A request for comment has been sent to Roberts.