BEIJING (JTA)—Israel’s biggest source of pride at the Beijing 2008 Olympics became its biggest blight this past week, after bronze medal-winning windsurfer Shahar Zubari called Chinese people “sh*ts” in an interview published September 5th in Israel’s Yediot Aharanot.
That was his answer when the reporter asked him to describe his hosts in one word.
Zubari also said he didn’t feel very comfortable during the month and a half he spent in China, and was happy he wouldn’t have to see any more Chinese people.
“They are difficult,” he said. “They don’t speak the language, their rituals are strange and even their pronunciation is weird.”
He added he didn’t like Chinese food and missed his usual food. “I can live off hummus.”
His comments could be especially damaging considering China is about to send its first tour groups to Israel later this month.
As evidence of how quickly this kind of comment can spread online to an increasingly tech-savvy Chinese population, I first heard about Zubari’s comments from a Chinese friend here in Beijing.
When I said Israel was doing better in the Paralympic Gamess than its one bronze won during the Olympics, my friend immediately knew who Zubari was. “That sailor who cursed us when he got home?”
This is also not the first incident concerning Israel’s media and the Beijing Olympics. Read these comments from a Chinese citizen living in Israel who takes issue with comments by Israeli telecasters during the Games.
Since Zubari’s story broke in the Chinese online press, articles and posts on the web in Mandarin are numerous. They range from outrage to observations that Zubari is just an ignorant youth.
The Shanghaiist in an English site frequented by Chinese webusers, as well as expats living in China, that can help you get an idea of the posted responses. This “Talkback” section on the Ha’aertz website also has international comments including some Chinese readers.
Zubari clearly offended beyond the online message boards, however, as the Chinese embassy in Tel Aviv canceled a reception for Israeli Olympians set to be held last Wednesday.
President Shimon Peres even apologized to the Chinese ambassador on Wednesday, and Ghaleb Majadle, Israeli Minister of Sport, Science and Culture made an official apology call as well. Zubari published an apology in Yediot on Tuesday.
Jeremy Last of the Jerusalem Post wrote an op-ed suggesting that better PR training for athletes (especially young ones like 22-year-old Zubari) could have prevented the gaffe.