Human Rights

  • Print Friendly, PDF & Email
  • Send to Kindle

Legal Expert: Latest Palestinian Attempt to Boot Israel from FIFA is Out of Bounds

Recent Palestinian-led efforts to boot Israel out of FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, “contradict longstanding FIFA practice and create a double standard for Israel,” a leading legal expert wrote in The Washington Post Monday.

Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor at Northwestern University and head of the Kohelet Policy Forum’s international law department, wrote that the arguments being marshaled to expel Israel for allowing semi-pro teams in the West Bank are “entirely contrived.”

The nonprofit organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) argued that the Israeli teams in occupied territories should be targeted because they are “making the settlements more sustainable.” Kontorovich responded by noting that “there is simply no support in international law for prohibiting business in occupied territories, as British and French courts have recently affirmed.”

Indeed, Morocco maintains a team, part of its national football federation, in occupied Western Sahara. Yet the HRW completely fails to mention this fact in its report. The human rights abuses in Western Sahara — where the majority of the population are Moroccan settlers and the indigenous population has been heavily displaced — are too vast to recount. No one — including the HRW and the Parliament members — has suggested expelling Morocco on account of its team, based deep in land taken from the Sahrawi.

HRW and others arguing for Israel’s expulsion from FIFA, he wrote, “rely principally on a lawyerly claim about FIFA’s rules: The clubs ‘clearly violate FIFA’s statutes, according to which clubs from one member association cannot play on the territory of another member association without its and FIFA’s consent.’”

However, Kontorovich argued, there “is nothing in the FIFA statutes that equates ‘territory’ with sovereign territory.” For example, a number of FIFA members, such as Hong Kong and Northern Ireland, are not sovereign. Besides, FIFA “is not a border demarcation body,” and has no authority to determine what a country’s borders are.

The claim that the acceptance of the Palestinian soccer federation into FIFA constituted a recognition of Palestine as a state and a recognition of its maximal border claims is unsupportable. FIFA membership does not imply statehood, nor has FIFA ever taken a position on preexisting border disputes.

For example, the soccer federation of Gibraltar, a British territory, is a member of FIFA despite being located on territory claimed by Spain. Spain has protested Gibraltar’s inclusion, but FIFA still accepted Gibraltar.

Kontorovich followed up on his initial post on Tuesday, observing that if the standard that was being applied to Israel were accepted, FIFA would have to expel either North Korea or South Korea, since both countries claim the entirety of the Korean peninsula as their territory.

Kontorovich made similar points earlier this month regarding the United Nations and its “obsessions” with Israeli settlements. The UN, like Israel’s critics in FIFA, are applying a separate standard regarding the West Bank than to any other disputed territory in the world.

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 described last year’s effort by the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) to launch an unsuccessful political attack against Israel.

The PFA took this action because, in the words of PFA president Jibril Rajoub, who is also a member of the Central Committee of the West Bank’s ruling Fatah party, “It is clear that the [IFA] is not willing to recognize the PFA as a federation with equal rights and obligations, just as they continue to violate their commitments made before FIFA. We are therefore determined to continue our path to suspend the [IFA] during the next FIFA Congress.”

Such an action had been in the works for the past few years. Rajoub proposed a similar motion before FIFA’s 2013 Congress, though it was withdrawn after mediation by Blatter and promises made by the IFA to help improve the situation for Palestinian athletes. And once again, Rajoub backed down this time, though not before taking the stage and denouncing Israel while brandishing a red card. Blatter’s compromise measure, which called for an internal committee to monitor and help address Rajoub’s complaints, was passed resoundingly by delegates.

Rajoub’s gambit was another facet of the Palestinian Authority’s escalating efforts to isolate and delegitimize Israel in bodies like the UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court—politicizing organizations that could theoretically serve a noble purpose if they weren’t so consumed with anti-Israel animus. One of FIFA’s only saving graces over the past few years has been that it has done a decent job at staying neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while successfully working to develop soccer in both countries: In the last two years, FIFA has invested $4.5 million in infrastructure and stadium upgrades in the West Bank, and selected Israel to host the Men’s Under-21 and Women’s Under-19 European Championships. Approving the Palestinian proposal would have meant that, like a brilliant goal-scoring run called offside, it was all a lot of effort with nothing to show for it.

[Photo: adidas Football / YouTube ]