Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome is facing criticism from Palestinians for joining Israel’s cycling team.
The team is called “Israel Start-Up Nation” – a tag line often used in official propaganda efforts aimed at deflecting attention from human rights abuses by portraying the country as innovative and forward-looking.
The British cyclist is set to sign his contract on 1 August and says he plans to ride for the Israeli team “until the end of his career.”
Froome has twice won the Vuelta a España.
He has also won the 2018 Giro d’Italia which started that year in Jerusalem. That race was held despite calls from Palestinians to boycott the event.
Meanwhile, as Froome signs on to ride for Israel, settlers attacked Palestinian cyclists in the occupied West Bank on 18 July – a reminder that Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation are not free to safely enjoy even the most benign activities in their own country.
A group of five Palestinian cyclists were taking a trail from Birzeit, a town north of Ramallah, but say an app led them into a road near Jewish-only colonies.
The cyclists were approached by Israeli settlers near the settlement of Shilo in the northern occupied West Bank, who asked them where they were from.
When the cyclists answered that they were from Ramallah the settlers attacked them with stones, Amer Kurdi, one of the cyclists, told Reuters.
“The others managed to run away, but I tripped and fell,” Samer, another of the cyclists, said.
“When I got up, a settler was behind me, and he started beating me with a metal rod.”
“Masked thugs from illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied Palestinian territory attack Palestinian cyclists with clubs, steal and destroy their bikes,” PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, stated.
The group posted pictures on Twitter of a person with bruises and a damaged bicycle.
“Chris Froome, by joining the Israeli government-sponsored team, you help legitimize Israel’s military occupation,” PACBI said.
Israeli settler violence in the occupied West Bank is on the rise, encouraged by Israeli authorities.
Israeli forces often “serve as an armed escort, or even join in the attacks,” according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which documents such violence.
The man behind the scenes
He celebrated Froome’s transfer.
“This is a historic moment for [Israel Start-up Nation], Israel, Israeli sports, our many fans all around the world and, of course, for me personally,” Adams said.
Adams describes himself as a “self-appointed ambassador-at-large for Israel” on his business card.
He played a big role in bringing the Giro d’Italia to Jerusalem.
He did not hide the political motive in promoting what was marketed as a mere sporting event.
“I want to show people how normal Israel is – that it is a modern, western, pluralistic and free nation where everyone gets along,” he told the Jewish Chronicle at the time.
In fact, organizers first announced the race would begin in “West Jerusalem,” but it was Adam who “convinced them there is no such place and they changed it to Jerusalem” – an acknowledgment that the sporting event was part of Israel’s effort to assert sovereignty over the entire city, in violation of international law.
Israel regularly uses sports and entertainment events to whitewash its crimes, distract from military occupation and normalize its image.
He said the event would showcase “the freedom and openness and tolerance and safety of our country.”
The song contest also took place despite Palestinian calls for a boycott.
Adams also lobbied to bring Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi to Tel Aviv in November 2019.
The national football teams of Argentina, Messi’s home country, and Uruguay played a friendly match in Tel Aviv just days after Israel escalated its lethal attacks on Gaza, leaving more than 30 Palestinians dead.
Normalization to diplomacy
Adams’ efforts also extend to normalization between Israel and Arab countries.
The Israeli cycling team participated in the UAE Tour cycling race in Dubai earlier this year.
Adams was instrumental in lobbying for the Israeli team’s participation, clearly stating his political motivations.
“It’s a historic occasion that an Israeli team will be racing in an Arab country. The first time ever,” Adams said at the time.
“We hope to make a diplomatic statement that Israel is a normal country, and normalize our image.”
Adams said normalized relations between Israelis and Arabs is to prepare “when the politicians get ready to sign our grand peace deal.”
Adams was also part of the Israeli delegation that attended the US-sponsored “peace” conference hosted by Bahrain in 2019.
While in Manama, he even met with Bahraini prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
“I went to the palace. We had a private meeting. I told him about the velodrome and sent him an invitation,” he told The Times of Israel.