Maccabi Australia has abandoned a controversial plan to ban non-Jews from competing in its sports teams.
The board of Australian Jewry’s largest member organisation decided last month to enforce its constitutional right, insisting that it would be an exclusively Jewish club by December 31, 2010.
Clubs that did not abide by the directive would have been disaffiliated from the roof body. Australia’s Equal Opportunity Act allows clubs to discriminate in order to preserve a minority culture.
But a backlash from within the Jewish community prompted the board to recant.
MAI president Harry Procel said in a statement: “After consulting with our constituents and the wider community we have reviewed our position and determined that no current members of the organisation will be required to leave at any time based on religion, gender or ethnicity.”
The board believed there were about 50 non-Jewish members in Maccabi clubs across Australia from its 9000-plus members.
The letters pages of the Australian Jewish News were filled with debate on the issue before the board’s U-turn. “It is incomprehensible that a Jewish sporting organisation would see it morally correct to exclude non-Jews from participation,” said one writer. Another wrote: “Credit should be given to Maccabi for taking this most difficult, politically sensitive but principled stand.”
Procel said Maccabi is a critical organisation for kids with next to no other contact with Jews. “These clubs provide an opportunity for Jewish children to connect and form lifelong friendships through sport.”