SA Rugby Board withdraws invitation to Israeli team – the Tel Aviv Heat

By Pamela Ngubane

For those who know little about the game of rugby, what’s ‘in play’ here, is less about the sport and more about the principle! The South African Rugby Union (SARU) has withdrawn an invitation to an Israeli rugby team – Tel Aviv Heat – to play in the 2023 Mzansi Challenge tournament in South Africa due to the objections of several “stakeholders”.

Refusing to play Ball. An invitation for Tel Aviv Heat – the Israel-based Super Rugby Cup franchise –  to participate in a provincial tournament in South Africa has been withdrawn by SA Rugby. (Photo by Levan Verdzeuli/Getty Images)

Who are these “stakeholders” and what is their agenda?

While the SARU tried to explain that they had “listened to the opinions of important stakeholder groups”, it failed to consult with either the Tel Aviv Heat or the Israel Rugby Union, or even the Israeli Embassy in South Africa prior to their mean-spirited decision.

It simply failed. It failed both procedurally and morally.

Scheduled to play in the tournament with four other international teams and six teams from South African provinces, Tel Aviv  Heat was informed that the invitation had been withdrawn!

Let me make it clear that despite the publicity surrounding this development, the SARU decision disinviting Tel Aviv Heat from the upcoming Mzansi Challenge, does NOT represent the South Africa people. What it does represent is the shameless bullying of the Jew-hating Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) movement resorting to, when they fail to convince anyone of the lie that Israel is a state perpetrating Apartheid.

‘Bokke’ on the Run. Tarnishing the Springbok image, SA Rugby announced that it had withdrawn an invitation to the Tel Aviv Heat to play in the Mzansi Challenge. Photo: SA Rugby website

South Africans across the board are increasingly experiencing the Jewish state as a partner for development and progress, as it consistently shows in its conduct when relating to other nations and peoples.

Just this week, South Africans, along with the rest of the world, have witnessed the work of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), medics from Israel’s world-renowned Sheba Medical Centre, and countless Jewish and Israeli volunteers, in Turkey and Syria, where thousands need aid in the aftermath of the recent devastating earthquakes. And this is despite that Turkey has had a rocky relationship with Israeli in recent years and that Syria remains technically at war with Israel. That is the nature of Israel – it responds to people in need.

This selflessness brings to mind the words of a young Jewish woman conscript in the IDF (Israel Defence Force)  I interviewed. When I asked her what Israel meant to her, she replied that no matter how people behave towards Israel and the Jews, “my country” will always lend a helping hand anywhere it is needed. She said this altruistic attitude was a part of her Jewish identity and that no amount of the world’s cruelty would change this about her people. This tenacious spirit has won the admiration of the friends and enemies of the Jews over the years.

Heat Wave in Tel Aviv. The Tel Aviv Heat (in blue) has been a success, both on and off the pitch, as it helps reignite the spirit of rugby throughout Israel.(photo credit: TSAHI REIZEL/COURTESY)

As the world seriously begins to seek to overcome the challenges that divide humanity and hamper our progress, Israel and the Jewish people are being recognised as “a light to the nations”. This is not just for their brilliant technological and scientific innovations and breakthroughs, but most importantly because they are willing to share this knowledge with all who are eager to listen and learn.

Africa in particular is embracing Israel as a partner for development who will not only advise but teach us how to recalibrate our thinking so we can ‘tackle’ – using rugby parlance – our problems with the aim to solving them permanently.

Israel’s willingness to get ‘into the ruck’ – again borrowing another rugby stratagem – with us in the fields of agriculture, water management, ICT, medicine, and entrepreneurship is why 44 out of 55 members of the African Union (AU) maintain increasingly strong diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

Therefore, while the cynical BDS celebrates Tel Aviv Heat’s exclusion from the 2023 Mzansi Challenge, they will not be able to keep South Africans and Africans from seeing the truth about Israel in the long run. While BDS insist on fighting against the moves by African states to normalise relations with the Jewish state, their efforts will grow increasingly futile as Israel’s humanitarian achievements surpass these bigoted efforts to undermine Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.

Joel Joins In. South African rugby legend, Joel Stransky joins in the fray in criticizing the SA Rugby Board decision.

As I continue to work in the field of Israel advocacy, I daily draw inspiration from the incredible contribution the nation of Israel has made to humanity since its founding over 3500 years ago.

While the history of this tiny nation is replete with dire experiences of national persecution and despair, there have always been outsiders who have watched in awe as the Jewish people emerged stronger after every trial.

It is my hope that Israel and the Jewish people will see these admiring friends shining brighter and cheering louder than the hateful bigots that try to tear them down.

So while the South African Rugby Union seemed to indicate that its intention behind its decision to withdraw the invitation to Tel Aviv Heat was “to avoid the likelihood of the competition becoming a source of division”, it will only, in the words of the statement from Tel Aviv Heat, “sow further division in South Africa and beyond by bolstering voices dedicated to vilify, demonize, and censor those who do not share their views.”

Let me conclude that when Israel’s friends become more fearless and vocal in her defence, we will see that far more people stand with Israel than against her and the Jewish people across the world.

The Plane Truth. Contrary to the lies South African BDS spreads about the Jewish state, here is the real Israel as it sends search and rescue equipment to Turkey in the wake of the devastating earthquake. What contribution has South Africa made to either Turkey or Syria besides ‘sending’ condolences?

About the writer:

A Social Science Honours graduate, Pamela Ngubane is a history teacher who was recently appointed as the General Manager of SAFI (South African Friends of Israel)

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


  1. A wonderful article – truth in every word – written by history teacher, Pamela Ngubane;
    who should – and hopefully will – make history for us in South Africa as well.

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