Palestinians disappointed but determined after FIFA betrayal

The Electronic Intifada | 29 May 2015

Palestinian children hold red cards in front of Israeli occupation forces during a demonstration against the Israel Football Federation in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh on 29 May.

Palestinians are expressing disappointment at the abandonment and sabotage of efforts to have Israel suspended from world football’s governing body over its systematic abuses of Palestinian players.

But campaigners are vowing to continue to work to isolate Israel.

Despite repeated vows not to back down, Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Association, pulled a motion to suspend Israel from FIFA in what The Guardian termed “a chaotic last minute climbdown.”

Bait and switch

Instead, the delegates from 209 member countries overwhelmingly adopted a motion muscled onto the agenda by FIFA’s scandal-ridden president Sepp Blatter to create a committee to monitor Palestinian football and Israeli abuses – a sporting version of the “peace process” that has gone nowhere for decades.

Blatter’s move, just hours before he was re-elected to FIFA’s presidency, came over objections from the Palestinian officials, who thought that delegates would be allowed to vote on a motion to refer the status of Israeli clubs based in settlements in the occupied West Bank to the UN.

The Palestinians, according to The Guardian, were “comprehensively outmanoeuvred by feverish Israeli lobbying and the opposition of senior FIFA officials, including Blatter.”

Powerhouse Germany’s football association joined forces with Israel to defeat the Palestinian effort, according to Israeli media.

As this video shows, two women briefly disrupted proceedings on the congress floor, holding up red cards and a Palestinian flag and calling out slogans in support of Palestinian rights. They were hustled away by security.



Responding to today’s events, Zaid Shuaibi, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), the broad coalition of Palestinian civil society organizations that works to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, said:

“The Palestinian BDS National Committee is disappointed that the entire FIFA congress, including the Palestinian Football Association, have not lived up to their obligations and stated principles.”

“FIFA and its membership have delayed the suspension of Israel, but they cannot delay the growth of the international boycott of Israel or prevent the continued isolation of Israel because of its human rights abuses and war crimes against the Palestinian people,” Shuaibi added.

“We warmly thank the many activists and supporters of the Palestinian struggle who mobilized in support of the suspension of Israel from FIFA.”

Red Card Israeli Racism, a UK-based group that campaigns for a boycott of Israeli football bodies, has been protesting outside the FIFA congress meeting in Zurich.

“We’ve been writing letters to FIFA members, pointing out the arguments for Israel’s suspension,” Geoff Lee, a member of the campaign, told Patrick Strickland earlier this week.

Nicolas Shahshahani, an activist with EuroPalestine, told The Electronic Intifada that dozens of supporters traveled from France to join the rallies outside the FIFA congress in Zurich, the culmination of months of organizing efforts.

“Israel may punish me”

In a New York Times op-ed yesterday, Palestinian footballer Iyad Abu Gharqoud urged that Israel should be given the “red card.”

“Players, coaches and referees are blocked from moving between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and frequently are barred from tournaments,” Abu Gharqoud wrote. “Israel has also violated FIFA rules by allowing teams from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank to play in Israel’s leagues. In addition, the Israeli fans of the Beitar Jerusalem club are notorious for chanting ‘Death to the Arabs’ at matches – racist abuse that the Israel Football Association’s token disciplinary measures have failed to deter.”

“Today, our players are frequently arrested and detained,” Abu Gharqoud added. “Last year, two of our most talented young players were shot and wounded by Israeli forces at a checkpoint.”

Abu Gharqoud laid out the case for sanctioning Israel in the sports arena in the same manner as apartheid South Africa a generation ago:

“Until the day that Palestinians and Israelis are equal under the law, FIFA has a moral duty to exclude Israel from the World Cup and European Championships. Israeli officials may punish me for saying so, but it will be only through their exclusion from international soccer that Israeli citizens will realize that the subjugation of the Palestinian people comes at a growing political and cultural cost.”

The sense of disappointment over today’s debacle matched the excitement in recent days – expressed on social media – that FIFA would provide a rare venue for Israel to be held accountable.

But once again pro-Israel pressure and backroom deals punctured that hope.

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