FIFA, the governing body of world football (soccer), has capitulated once more to intense pressure from the Israeli government. It has removed from the agenda of its upcoming congress the issue of teams from Israel’s illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land playing in Israel’s national league.
This came after the Israel Football Association (IFA) presented a document to FIFA officials, seen by Electronic Intifada, denying that an occupation even exists.
The Palestinian Football Association (PFA) 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 FIFA’s council announced on May 9 that there would be no vote on suspending Israel’s membership when national delegates gathered for the May 11 FIFA Congress in Bahrain.
“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 reject his committee’s draft report.
A 24-page memo from the IFA to FIFA officials attacks Sexwale’s draft report as “politicised and fundamentally flawed”.
It claims 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 IFA, 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 IFA adds.
But this position flies in the face of long-established international law. In December, the United Nations 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”. This includes measures such as 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.
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 organisations and faith groups from 28 countries joined world footballers, scholars, cultural figures and politicians in demanding the IFA be suspended if it did not exclude the settler teams.
The Israeli memo also proves beyond doubt that rather than being a body only interested in sports, the IFA is an integral part of Israel’s official propaganda and occupation apparatus. The goal of this apparatus is to complete the colonisation and annexation of the West Bank.
The IFA 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 (PACBI) 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.”
In a recent report, Human Rights Watch showed how FIFA and the IFA jointly profit from Israel’s illegal colonisation 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”.
Electronic Intifada understands there is intense pressure on the PFA to withdraw the motion.
The PACBI’s Awwad urged FIFA delegates to “stand on the right side of history” by backing the motion.
[Reprinted from Electronic Intifada.]