FIFA boss Gianni Infantino “is bent on following his predecessor’s corrupt path” after again caving in to Israeli pressure, Palestinians say. (Doha Stadium Plus/Vinod Divakaran)
Ali Abunimah-10 May 2017
FIFA has capitulated to intense pressure from the Israeli government and removed from the agenda of its upcoming congress the issue of Israeli settlement teams playing in Israel’s national league.
This came after the Israel Football Association presented a document to FIFA officials, seen by The Electronic Intifada, denying that an occupation even exists.
The Palestinian Football Association and more than 170 Palestinian teams have demanded that Israel be suspended due to its inclusion of settlement teams, its systematic violence against Palestinian athletes and its destruction of Palestinian sporting facilities.
But the council of world football’s governing body announced on Tuesday that there would be no vote on suspending Israel’s membership when national delegates gather for the FIFA Congress in Bahrain later this week.
“Following the report by chairman of the Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine Tokyo Sexwale, the FIFA Council considered that at this stage it is premature for the FIFA Congress to take any decision,” FIFA stated.
Israel denies occupation
The FIFA monitoring committee, headed by Sexwale, a former political prisoner and veteran in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid, has been looking into the settlement issue for two years.
The Sexwale committee’s report has been repeatedly delayed. As this year’s FIFA Congress loomed, Israel intensified its diplomatic effort to undermine Sexwale and to reject his committee’s draft report.
A 24-page memo from the Israel Football Association to FIFA officials, seen by The Electronic Intifada, attacks Sexwale’s draft report as “politicized and fundamentally flawed.”
It claims that the report “is rife with false assertions, with no legal or factual basis” and accuses the Sexwale committee of the “adoption of the Palestinian narrative.”
One of these alleged false assertions, according to the Israel Football Association, is that the “term ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ is a politically motivated term and does not reflect a binding legal determination of the status of this territory or the factual situation on the ground.”
“This territory is best understood as territory over which both the Israeli and Palestinian side [sic] maintain competing claims,” the Israel Football Association adds.
But this position flies in the face of long-established international law. In December, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution reaffirming that Israel is the “occupying power” in the West Bank.
The resolution condemns all of Israel’s measures “aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem,” by among other things building settlements, demolishing Palestinian homes and forcibly displacing civilians.
The clear language of the Security Council resolution gives the lie to Israel’s accusation that the Sexwale committee is making “one-sided political assertions” by factually stating that Palestinian territory is occupied.
FIFA rules bar national associations from holding matches on the territory of another member without permission – as Israel does in the West Bank without Palestinian permission.
Many governments and international bodies, including the International Criminal Court, consider the West Bank and Gaza Strip to be part of the territory of an occupied state of Palestine.
Moreover, a new legal analysis by the head of the Human Rights Centre at Germany’s University of Potsdam, concludes that Israeli settlement clubs playing in the occupied West Bank violate FIFA statutes.
Last month, more than 100 sports associations, trade unions, human rights organizations and faith groups from 28 countries joined world footballers, scholars, cultural figures and politicians in demanding the Israel Football Association be suspended if it didn’t exclude the settler teams.
FIFA caves in
The Israeli memo also proves beyond doubt that rather than being a body only interested in sports, the Israel Football Association is an integral part of Israel’s official propaganda and occupation apparatus whose goal is to complete the colonization and annexation of the West Bank.
The Israel Football Association memo recommends that “the draft report should not be circulated” and the matter should be the “subject of further discussion.”
Despite the clarity of the facts, the FIFA Council appears to have acquiesced to the false Israeli narrative and capitulated to demands for more delay and inaction.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel strongly condemned the decision.
“For two years, FIFA has ducked its responsibilities and allowed the Israel Football Association to violate FIFA’s own statutes by including football teams based in illegal Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land,” PACBI’s Hind Awwad said. “After bowing time and again to Israeli intimidation, FIFA had a chance to correct its disgraceful record. But it seems FIFA President Gianni Infantino is bent on following his predecessor’s corrupt path.”
Human Rights Watch detailed in a recent report how FIFA and the Israel Football Association jointly profit from Israel’s illegal colonization of the West Bank and the settlement teams that play there.
Palestine still on agenda
Despite Israel’s apparent success in pressuring FIFA officials to again give it a pass, Israel’s efforts to whitewash its violations of Palestinian rights still face a challenge at the upcoming congress.
The agenda includes a motion calling for “official recognition of the Palestinian Football Association’s entitlements to all of its rights as described in the FIFA Statutes.”
The Electronic Intifada understands there is intense pressure on the Palestinian Football Association to withdraw the motion.
PACBI’s Awwad urged FIFA delegates to “stand on the right side of history” by backing the motion.