TEL AVIV (May. 22)
The Israel Olympic Committee voted 17-8 tonight to boycott the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. The decision, after hours of intense debate behind closed doors, endorsed appeals for a boycott by Premier Menachem Begin, the Knesset Sports Committee and Soviet Jewish emigre groups in Israel. It means that Israel’s Olympic team will be disbanded.
Israel has thus followed the lead of the United States and other Western countries to boycott the Games because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It was reported tonight that U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis informed the Olympic Committee that Washington would back Israel should attempts be made to bar it from future international sports contests as a consequence of its boycott of the Moscow Games.
The decision come two days before the May 24 deadline for the committee to act. The committee stated that if there are any changes in the international situation with respect to the Olympics, it would reconvene to reconsider its decision. Of the eight members who voted for participation in the Games, seven were from the Hapoel sports organization and one was from the Maccabis. The members voted as individuals rather than as blocs representing the various sports groups.
INTENSE DEBATE BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
The nation waited tensely while the committee debated the issue behind closed doors. An announcement had been promised for 6 p.m. local time, but the debate continued for several hours longer. Reporters waiting outside the meeting room heard voices rising inside, indicating that emotions were high among the committee members.
A decision in favor of a boycott was expected but by a narrower margin than was the case. The committee was under intense pressure from the government to follow the American lead, arguing that Israel did not exist in a vacuum but was part of the West and could not afford to injure its relations with the Western nations which are boycotting the Moscow Games.
Begin urged a boycott when he met with committee members earlier this week. His appeal was reinforced by the Knesset committee. The Association of Former Prisoners of Zion sent a telegram to the committee today declaring that Israel must not send its athletes to Moscow while many Soviet Jews ore imprisoned for wanting to go to Israel.
Groups opposed to the boycott pointed out that Israel always has opposed the politicization of sports, than its position in the international sports world is precarious and that a boycott of the Olympics could close the doors to Israel’s participation in other sports events.