Slowing the Spigot on Détente, Saudis Ban Israelis from Chess Tournament
It’s axiomatic in the Middle East that nothing is more of a threat to cultural or political progress than daylight. Secret talks and clandestine meetings often come to a screeching halt when struck by the light of day: either via the rumor mill or stark accusation. Five Israeli chess competitors are no doubt certain that the adage holds fast after being denied entry to Saudi Arabia to compete in the speed chess championship being hosted by the Kingdom from Tuesday through the end of the week. An official of the Israel Chess Federation announced the situation from Athens where the International Chess Federation is based. There is speculation but no confirmation that Qatari players might also be banned because of the Saudi-led policy of isolating Doha from Arab neighbors because of its alleged support for terrorism. The Saudi-based Arab News reports 400 participants in the tournament and $2 million in prize money provided by the royal family – the largest purse ever vied for at an International Chess Federation event — while making no mention of those not allowed to play despite the international rules forbidding a host nation from barring any nationality from playing. It did, however, publish the dress code: black or blue suits with white shirts for men and high-necked white blouses for women, noting women do not need to wear the traditional Muslim hijab or Abaya coverings. The Israelis had been hopeful that they would not be excluded following a number of high-level “in-the-open” contacts between Saudi and Israeli officials. But in recent days the newfound openness became difficult to discern as the Saudis voted against President Trump’s Jerusalem declaration in the United Nations General Assembly.