Ireland Basketball’s Israel-Shunning Carried The Silent Imprimatur Of Its Prime Minister

Daniel Rosehill
4 min readFeb 9, 2024
Ireland’s women’s basketball team seen refusing to line up alongside Israeli athletes before the commencing of a basketball fixture in Riga yesterday. Photo: BBC

Congratulations to the Israeli women basketball’s team.

Not for winning a basketball game (sorry, I’m not a fan).

But for providing the world with the opportunity to see the depth of Ireland’s vitriolic hatred against Israel.

For showing us that Israel-hatred and refusing to shake hands with Jewish athletes are acts of pure spite that can come from supposedly liberal Western democracies as well as from the places that we’re more … accustomed to it.

This is something many people needed to learn first-hand.

But you know what’s truly appalling about Ireland’s refusal to shake hands?

The fact that it carries the silent imprimatur of the Irish government.

Hear me out a minute more and I’ll tell you why.

Ireland’s media was busy working itself into a frenzy last week wondering whether its basketball team would play the match.

The basketball association announced their intention to boycott the future due to their disdain for Israel.

Basketball’s governing body, FIBA, announced that it would impose a six figure fine on the team for refusing to participate. The team’s coach said that it would set the future of the sport in Ireland back a generation.

The logic facing the Irish team became the following: do we want to pay for the privilege of being racists? Or are we more the cheapskate kind of hater? The Irish opted for the second choice.

In Ireland, there were calls for Ireland to go ahead with the fixture and back out of the boycott threat.

But telling they were not made out of any kind of moral intuition that boycotting a sporting fixture simply because the team was from Israel was morally wrong or indefensible.

The thin opposition to the holding of the fixture came exclusively from selfish self-interest.

Ireland’s Prime Minister (PM) Leo Varadkar offered his two cents about the looming game on a prime time Irish radio show.

And here were his words:

“It’s one thing to expel Russia or expel Israel from certain sporting events or certain music events or contests, and I think that may well be appropriate, but for us to remove ourselves actually isn’t a good idea, in my view, because all we do is disadvantage ourselves,” he said.

So there you have it.

Expelling Israel from sporting events — in the Irish PM’s view — “may well be appropriate” (this is the ever-tepid prime minister’s way of saying “we’re dying for that!”). But Ireland shouldn’t boycott the fixture anyway because why pay the price for hating on Israel when you can do it for free?

All this occurred before an Israeli team-member accused the Irish side of “anti-Semitism.” But refusing to shake hands with the entire team seems like a particularly strange way to refute that charge.

Ireland’s decision to refuse to shake hands with the Israeli team (it’s worth noting) appears to have received the quiet collusion of FIBA who said that they were informed of both sides’ intentions before the blowing of the whistle. Given their unwillingness to pay for boycotting the fixture, it’s reasonable to assume that Ireland’s team got the green light that this hateful display was acceptable.

So they found a way to show their spite towards Israel without having to pay for the privilege. A bargain, I guess they reckoned.

Ireland’s Prime Minister wasn’t alone in opposing the boycott idea only because it would cost the team money.

Ireland’s Basketball CEO John Feehan couched his own opposition to the boycott in the idea that doing so would be “ruinous” to the support.

But here’s the rub:

Not a single commentator or politician to my knowledge expressed opposition to the boycott on the grounds that doing so was reprehensible and wrong.

It gets worse (after Israel routed the Irish team).

After the ugly spectacle before yesterday’s game Ireland’s basketball association released a statement hailing the “incredible maturity” of its players.

Yes, the incredible maturity of refusing to shake hands with every one of the Israelis.

The Irish Government has been silent in its response to the news coverage of the gesture that has been picked up throughout the world.

No prizes for guessing why.

Its media bursting forth with praise for the handshake-refusers who (the Irish lament) were “put in a difficult place” for declaring their hatred but then being forced to play the match anyway.

Sorry. That one’s squarely on you.

Some relationships are best given up on.



Daniel Rosehill

Daytime: writing for other people. Nighttime: writing for me. Or the other way round. Enjoys: Linux, tech, beer, random things.