Israel

Netanyahu Praises FIFA Chief For Opposing Palestinian Effort to Suspend Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, the governing body of international soccer, for opposing the Palestinian move to suspend Israel from the organization, The Times of Israel reported today.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday met with FIFA President Sepp Blatter, praising the soccer chief for opposing a Palestinian attempt to have Israel banned from the international sports organization. …

“Sport is a vehicle of goodwill among nations,” Netanyahu told Blatter. “The thing that could destroy the Football Association is politicizing it. You politicize it once with Israel, then you politicize it for everyone, and it will cause the deterioration of a great institution.”

He said the two were to discuss moves to ease tensions, and when Blatter proposed a friendly match between Israeli and Palestinian national teams within the year, Netanyahu agreed to the idea.

The Times also quoted Israel Football Association chief Rotem Kamer, who said that his organization has “helped the PFA (Palestine Football Association) in any way it could.”

“Our national teams are combined with Arabs and Jews, we have joint leagues, joint clubs,” Kamer observed. “Instead of trying to use it as a weapon against each other, let’s try to do projects of peace to show football can bring people together.”

Blatter, who is also facing reelection at the upcoming Congress, has said that Israel must make some concessions to help develop Palestinian soccer.

Yesterday, The Jerusalem Post provided background on the Palestinian move, which has been spearheaded by PFA head Jibril Rajoub. Rajoub alleges that Israel has been “persecuting Palestinian footballers, athletes and the movement of sporting equipment.” Blatter opposes the Palestinian effort and, according to the Post, said “that Israel had not broken any FIFA statutes.” The Palestinian motion is scheduled to be discussed at FIFA’s annual Congress in Zurich next week. The Post reported that while the Palestinian motion is not expected to pass, Israel has been fighting it.

Israel’s arguments in recent weeks against the step have been three-fold.

First, such a move badly politicizes sport, and the Palestinians are using this to try and push forward their political agenda.

Secondly, that restrictions on some Palestinian football players is because they are involved in terrorist organizations. And, thirdly, that the driving force behind the move – PFA head Jibril Rajoub – is using this to forward his own political agenda and position himself as a successor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel’s first argument has been echoed by Blatter, who said last week, “This could open the doors, where would we go? We want to be in sport and not in politics, we could set a very dangerous precedent.”

Blatter’s concerns are well-founded. The scorched-earth Palestinian diplomatic campaign against Israel has damaged the credibility of any international organization where it is has been conducted. The United Nations Human Rights Council and UNESCO, the UN’s cultural agency, have had their credibility undermined by the Palestinian politicization of their missions.

In this light, the optics of the Palestinian campaign in FIFA against Israel are particularly bad, as Rajoub has a long record of anti-Israel rhetoric, including naming sporting tournaments in honor of terrorists, regularly comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, and calling a football match between Israeli and Palestinian children “a crime against humanity.”

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