During the 2017 World Baseball Classics, the Israeli baseball team was considered as the underdogs, but they became a sensation with mostly unexpected success. This success is what is giving them hope to ensure their place in the Tokyo Olympics. The Tokyo Olympics will feature baseball again on the schedule after an absence since 2008. The only obstacle in the Isreali dream is the fact that even though the country’s name is featuring in their uniforms, nearly no player in the team is actually from Israel.
The Challenge with Which the Team was Faced
One of the requirements set by the Olympic Charter is that all the athletes within the team need to be nationals of the country which they represent. This wasn’t a concern to them before during the World Baseball Classics, since this is not a requirement set by the WBC. During the WCB the team existed mainly of American citizens who became eligible to play for Israel through having either a Jewish parent or grandparent or even only by being married to a Jew. Finding a team of Israeli citizens can be an impossible task considering that the headcount for people involved in the sport, living in Israel, is roughly in the area of 1 000.
The Solution to Their Problem
Hence the only way that Israel could find to overcome this challenge was to ensure that these players get Israeli citizenship. Therefore, over the past 12 months, many Jewish-Americans who are involved in professional baseball were granted Israeli citizenship under the Israeli Law of Return. This process is referred to as aliyah, which means ascent in Hebrew and allows people with Jewish descent to obtain citizenship into the country. This solution enabled the Israeli team to become one of only 12 teams to partake in the European championship. From here the top five teams will be advancing towards the qualifiers for the Olympics which would be taking place in Italy.
The process of switching nationality to qualify for the Olympic Games is nothing new. During the Games held in Pyeongchang in South Korea during 2018, the estimated number of participants who switched their nationality to qualify is estimated at 6%. According to the president of the Israeli Association of Baseball, Peter Kurz, this is more than just passport swapping. He believes that each of these players who have recently obtained their Israeli nationality is feeling a secure connection to the country and is proud to be contributing. According to the players, they seem to agree. Many stated that making aliyah is more than just obtaining citizenship. It is about finding a spiritual home as much as that it is a demographic homeland. Even though Israel is not the place where they were born, it does still represent to them their heritage and remains the place where they belong. With this team, Israel might have a fair fighting chance for success on a journey which will be challenging towards the Olympics.