Opinion: The folly of pro-Palestinian protesters screaming at Jewish teenage girls playing softball in Surrey, B.C.

Pro-Palestinian protesters rallied outside a women's softball game in Surrey, B.C., on July 3, 2024, where Team Canada faced off against a visiting Team Israel—many of whom were teenage girls. (Photo by Michael A. Sachs)

It was a sunny Wednesday evening in Surrey, B.C., when a loud group of pro-Palestinian protesters decided to disrupt a softball game played between Canada and Israel as part of the Canada Cup Women’s International Softball Championship. In photos posted to social media on July 3, the sidelined hecklers can be seen brandishing signs with the all-too-familiar modern blood libel of genocide and equating Israel to Nazi Germany.

A video of the protesters appears to show their numbers in the low dozens. They also appear to have been constrained to an area behind a fence, behind the grandstand, perhaps a few hundred feet from home plate. Videos also show them yelling, all while families and children try and focus on softball.

On the field, several teenage Jewish athletes were simply trying to play their favourite game. At least one of them just graduated high school last month. Another team member is raising money to play in an under-15 tournament in Prague this year, calling herself “your average teenage girl who fell in love with the game of softball around eight years old.” She, like several others on the roster, isn’t even Israeli—she’s an American who qualifies to play for Israel’s national team because of her ancestry.

Members of the Women’s and U19 National Teams. (Credit: Team Israel/JNF)

It is unclear whether the anti-Israel protesters waving swastika-laden signs realized they would be denouncing athletic participation by teenage Americans.

This particular rally seems to have been organized by a group calling itself Samidoun Vancouver, part of the “Palestinian prisoner solidarity network” that the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs wants Canada to designate as a terrorist entity. (Samidoun was banned in Germany in tandem with Hamas last November.) According to Peace Arch News, a local media outlet that found the protest newsworthy enough to cover in advance, organizer Dania Barakat offered this rationale for their action: “For months we have been calling for Canada to end its support for Israel and to implement a full two-way arms embargo and sanctions on Israel. In light of this, we are deeply troubled and angered by the warm welcome for Israeli sports representatives by the City of Surrey and Government of Canada.”

As one of the resident sports podcasters at The Canadian Jewish News for the past five years, I feel conflicted to even write about this incident. I am mindful of a quote attributed to Napoleon: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” This protest has been widely and unanimously condemned. An argument can be made that supporters of Israel ought to prefer the antizionist movement remain feckless, foolish and frequently mocked.

Nevertheless, some commentary is deserved on the form and function of this protest.

I have always been a strong supporter of Israel’s baseball and softball teams, and I applaud their continued participation in various international tournaments. With all due respect to the Canada Cup Women’s International Softball Championship, the game appears to have been attended by, at best, a few hundred people. Not exactly the traffic of the Olympics. If you are going to protest an athletic event, maybe aim for something televised—or at least something more well-known.

The protesters claim they were “opposing the inclusion” of Team Israel. To what end? It should go without saying that neither the Israeli, American nor Canadian softball players have much input on the decisions made by the Israeli government or army.

The aggrieved parties might also want to focus their resources on a sport they are more familiar with.

The flyer promoting the protest showed a keffiyeh-wearing batter striking out on a mammoth baseball which is perhaps a bit low, but, given its sheer size, must have gotten some of the strike zone. I refuse to believe that the person who designed this poster has ever watched a softball game—or baseball, for that matter. Such a keffiyeh would completely rob the hitter of their peripheral vision; there is no way they would be able to hit a breaking ball. Not to mention the completely unsafe lack of a batting helmet.

Lastly, anyone knowledgeable about the dimensions of a baseball or softball field would have realized that an effective protest would have to take place somewhere behind a fence, out of the way of errant balls. The protesters were stuck behind the grandstand and home plate, meaning that all the spectators were facing the field—with backs turned at the people shouting at them.

In the end, despite taking an early lead, Team Israel fell to Team Canada, which secured a 10-3 victory. Team Canada’s next game is scheduled for July 4 at 6 p.m. local time against Hong Kong. Let’s see how many protesters show up to advocate for Hong Kong’s survival in an increasingly authoritarian China. The over-under bet is set at “one”.

James Hirsh is the co-host of Menschwarmers, the long-running Jewish sports talk show from The CJN Podcast Network. Listen and subscribe at this link.