Iroquois Nationals incredible journey to Israel

It was touch-and-go for the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team on Wednesday as they waited at Toronto Pearson Airport to find out their fate: would they be able to join 46 international teams in the World Lacrosse Championship in Israel, or would they be forced to remain in Canada, shut out from playing?

Lacrosse is an important sport for the Iroquois – who are Native American Confederacy found across North America – as it was established by them in around 1100 CE, and has been used for generations to settle disputes.

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After fighting pressure from the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and making a conscious decision to attend the lacrosse tournament in Israel, it was discovered that despite having booked their flight, they were unable to travel on their Haudenosaunee passports, which are not internationally recognized. Although the Iroqious have Canadian passports, they choose not to travel on them for cultural reasons.

Former Yesh Atid MK , who was ed by Israel Lacrosse Association executive director Scott Neiss, played a key role in helping to resolve the issue as fast as possible.

With just days until the competition, it took 72 hours of non-stop calls and letters to embassies, ambassadors, prime ministers’ offices, officials and foreign ministries to find a way around the stalemate, with many people from both the Israeli and Canadian side doing their best to fight the clock and make this work.

“We had a stalemate because Canada said they’d love to send them, and Israel would love them to come, but Israel doesn’t allow people to travel into the country without official passports or documentation,” Lipman told The Jerusalem Post. “There are security issues, and Israel can’t have an open-door policy… [but] everyone wanted to make it work.”

As hope began to fade, Lipman reached out to Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian justice minister, who spoke with officials within the Canadian Foreign Ministry.

Officials from Israel Lacrosse also managed to get in touch with the Canadian Prime Minister’s Office, and a plan was formulated by all parties involved to get the team successfully to Israel.
However, it went down to the very last minute.

The Canadian Foreign Ministry issued an official letter that Israel accepted, allowing the team to enter the country.

“The letter had to be in a language that was comfortable for Canada and that Israel accepted – and despite this all going through at the last minute – the Iroquois Nationals are here,” Lipman said.

The flight carrying the team from Toronto was delayed three hours, as the airline awaited confirmation about the agreement between Israel and Canada.

According to Lipman, Israel represents incredible meaning for the Iroquois because they identify with indigenous people (Jews) returning to their homeland.

“Along the way, BDS tried everything to stop them from coming,” said Lipman. “The fact that they are here is a tremendous victory against BDS – we give the Iroquois tribe so much credit for fighting the pressure. I’m thrilled that so many people were able to come together and make this happen. We have 46 teams here who have come to see the truth – this championship showcases Israel at its best.”

The championship was the center of a BDS storm in a bid to sabotage the competition. In an open letter to the  Iroquois Nationals, BDS claimed Wingate Institute in Netanya – where the competition is taking place – was “built on the [Palestinian] lands of Khirbat al-Zababida, [which was] ethnically cleansed of its Palestinian inhabitants in 1948 as part of the attacks focused on clearing indigenous villages along the coast north of Tel Aviv.”

Lipman’s message to athletes, musicians and artists who cave into BDS pressure is that those who have come have had nothing but a positive experience. “It’s a shame that athletes and musicians give into pressure from groups that align themselves with terrorist organizations,” he said. “I choose to celebrate those who have come, and encourage everyone to be like the Iroquois – they are an incredible example… and the ties between Israel and Canada [and how this situation was solved] is a positive example for the rest of the world.”

It was a happy ending all around – Lipman reported from the opening of the competition on Thursday night that there was a “wonderful” vibe, “with fans from countries all around the world enjoying [it] together.”

A leader of the confederacy told Lipman “that it’s an honor of a lifetime to be here with you.”

The World Lacrosse Championship will continue over the next 10 days.

Tamar Beeri contributed to this report.