Israelis 'secretly' participate in 2021 Dakar Rally

Israelis 'secretly' participate in 2021 Dakar Rally
Despite travel restrictions, a team of Israelis have entered Saudi Arabia to compete in the 2021 Dakar Rally.
3 min read
15 January, 2021
Omer Pearl, Nirit Ofir, Charley Gotlib and Danny Pearl (L to R) [Facebook]
Two Israeli drivers are participating in the 2021 Dakar Rally, which is being hosted in Saudi Arabia and enters its final day today, according to reports in Israeli media. 

On the rally’s official entrants list, Danny Pearl and Charly Gotlib are racing under the Belgian flag, but it has been reported that the pair entered Saudi Arabia using their Israeli passports. The team is managed by Omer Pearl, the son of the lead driver. 

The team is being sponsored by MyHeritage, an Israeli online genealogy platform, which is based in the city of Or Yehuda near Tel Aviv.

“We’re thrilled to support a team that includes a father and son, competing in one of the world’s most difficult and gruelling competitions,” said MyHeritage in a blog post.

The final stage of the 14 day race started on Friday morning and it has been reported that the two men are still in Saudi Arabia. 

The Dakar Rally is renowned for being one of the most difficult motor races in the sporting calendar. 

According to right-wing Israeli newspaper Arutz Sheva the race organisers were not in favour of the participation of the two drivers and requested that their inclusion remain concealed, until they had left Saudi Arabia. 

Pictures released by MyHeritage reveal that Dr. Nirit Ofir, a research fellow at the University of Haifa’s Ezri Center for Iran and the Gulf Studies, accompanied the team. She is listed as being a special advisor to the rally team.

In one photo posted to her Facebook profile, Ofir can be seen with Saudi driver Saleh Alsaif.

Saudi Arabia does not allow Israeli citizens to enter the kingdom, with the exception of Palestinian-Israelis, who are permitted into the country for religious pilgrimages.

In a video released by MyHeritage, the Pearl Racing Team can be seen at the start podium. 

“We are making history here now. For the first time ever,” comments a voice which is believed to be Ofir.

No official comment has been made regarding the inclusion of Israeli participants in the rally, and Dakar 2021 did not respond to requests by The New Arab at the time of publication.  

Read more: How Saudi Arabia's fear of feminism landed Loujain al-Hathloul in a terror court

The 2021 Dakar Rally will conclude on Friday, ending in Jeddah, and it was reported that the Pearl and Gotlib will leave the country over the weekend.

Earlier in the race, the rally’s organisers came under fire when it was reported that the route would pass within a few hundred metres of the prison where Loujain al-Hathloul has been held.

Hathloul was a prominent campaigner for the right of women to drive in the highly conservative country and has been imprisoned since 2018. She has recently been found guilty of 'terrorism' offences by a Saudi court.

Rights groups and Hathloul's relatives say that she has been subject to torture and sexual assault while in detention, allegations which Riyadh has denied.

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