Naming a chess tournament in honor of a terrorist

Abu Jihad didn't play chess, but he did mastermind the murders of 125 innocent people.

Att'y Stephen M. Flatow, | updated: 06:48

OpEds Chess (illustration)
Chess (illustration)

In most parts of the world, chess tournaments are named after sponsors or stars of the sport.

  • The Capablanca Memorial chess tournament, held each year in Cuba, honors a 1920s Cuban chess master named Jose Raul Capablanca y Graupera.
  • The Sinquefield Cup, a chess tournament in St. Louis, is named after Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield, the founders of the city’s chess club as well as the World Chess Hall of Fame.
  • The Tata Steel Chess Tournament, in the Netherlands, bears the name of its corporate sponsor.

Only in the Palestinian Authority (PA) can one find a chess tournament named after one of the most notorious terrorists in modern times.  

Leave it to the PA to name its new chess tournament after someone who had no connection to the sport, but whom it simply admires: Khalil Al-Wazir, better known as Abu Jihad.

U.S. Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt tweeted: "Despicable glorification of violence and terrorism displayed at a Palestinian school w/ a painting of Abu Jihad (Khalil Al-Wazir). Palestinian students deserve to learn about respectable accomplishments of their community not this."
Al-Wazir was a co-founder, along with Yasir Arafat, of the terrorist Fatah movement in 1965. PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas is the current leader of Fatah.

According to the PA’s own calculation, al-Wazir masterminded numerous terrorist attacks, in which 125 people were killed. He was responsible for, among others, the murder of American diplomats in Khartoum (Sudan) in 1973, and the Tel Aviv Highway Massacre in 1978, in which 36 Israelis and nature photographer Gail Rubin, the niece of U.S. Senator Abraham Ribicoff, were murdered.

In commemoration of the anniversary of al-Wazir’s death last month, the PA inaugurated a “Martyr Khalil Al-Wazir Abu Jihad Individual Chess Tournament of the Palestine Northern Districts.” It will operate under the auspices of the PA’s Palestinian Chess Federation and will be financed by the Jenin branch of Chairman Abbas’s Fatah movement.

Chess is not the only local sport through which the Palestinian commemorate their hero, Abu Jihad. The Ansar Al-Quds soccer club, near Jerusalem, holds an Abu Jihad Tournament. As do the Palestinian Judo Association, the Palestinian Table-Tennis Association, and the Palestinian Boxing Association.

The chess honor was just one of several public displays of adoration for Abu Jihad in recent weeks. On the campus of Al-Istiqlal University, in PA-controlled Jericho, Abbas also inaugurated a new “Martyr Khalil Al-Wazi Abu Jihad Faculty for Administration and Military Sciences.” And a festival honoring Abu Jihad was held at the PA’s Al-Quds Open University, near Jerusalem.

Just a few weeks earlier, the PA renamed a school in Al-Yamun, near Jenin, “The Martyr Abu Jihad School for Boys.” That event also included the unveiling  of a huge mural of the arch-terrorist on a wall of the school. Senior PA officials, and Abu Jihad’s wife, were on hand to take part.

That celebration of terror caught the eye of U.S. Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt, who tweeted: "Despicable glorification of violence and terrorism displayed at a Palestinian school w/ a painting of Abu Jihad (Khalil Al-Wazir). Palestinian students deserve to learn about respectable accomplishments of their community not this."

The official PA daily newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, replied to Greenblatt by hailing Abu Jihad as “the Prince of Martyrs and one of the greatest symbols of our people and our modern revolution…He is the First Bullet and the First Stone. He is present among us like a light that is not extinguished.”

There were additional articles in the PA newspaper deriding Greenblatt as “this Zionized American” and calling his criticism “a racist, extremist, Zionist and hostile attack against a national symbol.” (Translations courtesy of Palestinian Media Watch.)

Like every regime in the world, the PA sometimes bases its policy decisions in part on its perception of how the international community will respond. As a result, strong condemnations and penalties can have an impact.

So, it will be interesting to see whether the World Chess Federation recognizes the Abu Jihad Tournament—and how the Federation’s American affiliate, the United States Chess Federation, relates to a tournament named in honor of a murderer of American citizens. 

It’s their move.

Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror.”