Guy Lieba
Guy Leiba
Photo: Ynet
Artem Dolgopyat draped in the Israeli flag after winning the gold medal for Men's Floor gymnastics at the Tokyo Olympics

Olympic hero and second-class citizen

Opinion: Israel celebrates gymnast Artem Dolgopyat's gold medal, but is unwilling to let him marry as a nation proudly calling itself the 'only democracy in the Middle East' continues to discriminate against hundreds of thousands of migrants from the former USSR

Guy Leiba |
Published: 08.04.21, 00:00
With his Olympic gold medal in Men's Floor gymnastics, Artem Dolgopyat justly became the "darling of the nation", a person that the whole country has now clasped to its collective bosom.
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  • As is standard when it comes to these sorts of events, the young gymnast's family was interviewed by the local media.
    At this point Dolgopyat's mother revealed a terrible truth: he and his girlfriend cannot marry in Israel as both are not deemed Jewish by the standards of the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate that controls every aspect of Jewish life.
    3 צפייה בגלריה
    דולגופיאט חוגג
    דולגופיאט חוגג
    Artem Dolgopyat draped in the Israeli flag after winning the gold medal for Men's Floor gymnastics at the Tokyo Olympics
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Dolgopyat is Jewish enough to emigrate to Israel, train in suboptimal conditions, serve in the IDF, win medals under the Israeli flag. But marry? Absolutely not.
    Artem must never forget that he is still a "foreigner", a "Russian" (he was born in Ukraine) whom the state views as a second-class citizen thanks to the irrelevant and outdated rules we are still forced to live under.
    Former minister Bezalel Smotrich, who griped about athletes who "desecrated the Shabbat" in Tokyo perfectly illustrates Israel's view of Artem and other Israelis who came from the former Soviet Union: your Israeliness will always be conditional and your Judaism is questionable at best.
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    ארטיום דולגופיאט בנתב"ג
    ארטיום דולגופיאט בנתב"ג
    Artem Dolgopyat gets a hero's welcome as he returns to Israel from Tokyo
    (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
    Sure, the Law of Return does grant you the right to migrate here, but you must remember that this nation is first and foremost a Jewish state, not the state of the Jews.
    We love to brag about our liberal capital Tel Aviv, flaunting videos on social media hailing us as the "only democracy in the Middle East," but in law we discriminate daily against hundreds of thousands of people, including our latest darling.
    The response from Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov, another migrant from the former USSR, was also peculiar.
    "Pride on the podium, second class under the wedding canopy," Razvozov wrote on Twitter. Does he not understand that he is now part of the government?
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    נפתלי בנט בשיחה עם ארטיום דולגופיאט
    נפתלי בנט בשיחה עם ארטיום דולגופיאט
    Prime Minister Naftali Bennett congratulates Artem Dolgopyat on his win from the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday
    (Photo: GPO)
    Besides a lot of talk, we have not seen any genuine effort by the "coalition for change" to pursue laws that will assist a mind-boggling number of Israelis who are in desperate need of a solution.
    Dolgopyat's medal will likely mean an historic shift for the field of gymnastics in Israel, but the public outcry again opens up the issue of religion and state in Israel, something that haunts all our lives.
    Who knows, perhaps the famously modest gymnast will make history off the mat as well.
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