Palestinians File FIFA Complaint Against Israel in Latest Effort to Politicize World Body

The Palestinian Authority filed a complaint with FIFA after Israel prevented several players from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip from traveling to the West Bank, The Times of Israel reported on Sunday. The move is the latest in the PA’s ongoing effort to insert its conflict with Israel into international fora.

Israel’s internal security agency, the Shin Bet, restricted seven members and staff of the Shabab Khan Younis soccer team from traveling to Hebron to participate in the final Palestine Cup due to their “severe negative security background.” The winner of the match, which was postponed, will compete in next year’s AFC Asian Cup.

The complaint was filed by Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian soccer federation, who last year led an unsuccessful effort to suspend Israel from FIFA. At the time, Israel argued against the maneuver on three counts, according to the Jerusalem Post:

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.

Scorched-earth Palestinian diplomatic campaigns against Israel have in the past damaged the credibility of the international organization where they have been conducted. The United Nations Human Rights Council and UNESCO, the UN’s cultural agency, both had their credibility undermined by the Palestinian politicization of their missions.

In a statement following the failure of the Palestinian bid to suspend Israel from FIFA last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said:

This Palestinian provocation joins the unilateral steps that the Palestinians are taking at other international institutions. So long as they take these steps they will only push peace further away instead of bringing it closer.

At a time when the international community is calling for confidence-building measures, the Palestinians are once again replying with an attempt to carry out unilateral steps that harm the ability to advance a regional settlement.

Rajoub, who is believed to be positioning himself to succeed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, has a long record of hostility toward Israel, 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.” In October, Rajoub praised a Palestinian terrorist attack that left one dead and 12 injured in Beersheba as an “act of heroism.” In May 2013, he declared that the Palestinians are enemies of Israel and warned: “in the name of Allah, if we had nuclear weapons, we’d be using them.”

In FIFA, the Palestinians, and the Future of World Football, which was published in the June 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine,  assistant editor Aiden Pink explaind how Rajoub used sports not as a means of building bridges, but of attacking Israel.

His opposition to cooperation through sports was not merely hypothetical. In September 2014, after a foundation led by former Israeli President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres held a soccer program with Israeli and Palestinian kids to promote peace and coexistence, Rajoub slammed the program, stating that “any activity of normalization in sports with the Zionist enemy is a crime against humanity.”

“I love it when we play together like this,” a Palestinian boy at the event told an AFP reporter. “I hope that one day there will be peace between Arabs and Jews and that there will be no more wars and death.” This, apparently, is not an attitude that Rajoub wants to foster.

Sometimes Rajoub says things about sports that, out of context, sound quite nice: “Sports are a bridge for love, communication and the spreading of peace between nations and should not be used for divisiveness and the spread of racism,” he wrote to International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge just before the 2012 Summer Olympics. But in this case, Rajoub was thanking Rogge for saying no to “racism” by refusing to include a moment of silence at the opening ceremony for the Israeli athletes who were murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics by Palestinian terrorists—terrorists who were members of Rajoub’s political party.

According to Rajoub, sports are a bridge for the spreading of peace, unless the sports involve Palestinians, in which case sports become “a means to achieve national goals” and “a tool of struggle to present the Palestinian cause.” It’s clear that Rajoub’s FIFA initiative is designed to delegitimize and attack Israel. And it’s likely that he is using his position as a populist platform to garner support for the eventual battle to succeed Abbas as head of the Palestinian Authority. But it’s fair to ask whether Rajoub has ever intended to improve the situation for Palestinian soccer players at all. In fact, his refusal until February of this year—in violation of FIFA rules—to allow Palestinian players to be transferred to Israeli teams may confirm it.

[ Photo: Issam Rimawi / Flash90 ]