SYDNEY (JTA) — Maccabi Australia has abandoned a controversial plan to ban non-Jews from competing on its sports teams.
The board of Australian Jewry’s largest member organization decided last month to enforce its constitutional right by Dec. 31, 2010, ensuring it would be an exclusively Jewish club.
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.
In a May 28 statement, MAI president Harry Procel said, "After consulting with our constituents and the wider community we have reviewed our position and determined that no current members of the organization will be required to leave at any time based on religion, gender or ethnicity."
The board believed there were about 50 non-Jewish members out of more than 9,000 members in Maccabi clubs across Australia.
The letters pages of the Australian Jewish News were filled with debate on the issue before the board’s back flip.
"It is incomprehensible that a Jewish sporting organization 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 organization 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."