66 EU parliamentarians urge FIFA to ban Israeli settlement clubs
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66 EU parliamentarians urge FIFA to ban Israeli settlement clubs

In letter to world soccer body, MEPs call for ban on games for youth teams from five communities in West Bank

Palestinian youth hold red cards and placards reading in Arabic, 'Israel out of FIFA,' during a demonstration against the Israel Football Federation in the West Bank city of Hebron, on May 28, 2015. (AFP photo/Hazem Bader)
Palestinian youth hold red cards and placards reading in Arabic, 'Israel out of FIFA,' during a demonstration against the Israel Football Federation in the West Bank city of Hebron, on May 28, 2015. (AFP photo/Hazem Bader)

A group of European lawmakers on Friday urged soccer’s world governing body FIFA to ban Israeli clubs based in settlements in the West Bank.

In a letter to FIFA president Gianni Infantino, 66 MEPs identified five clubs based in settlements and insisted they either move inside Israel’s internationally accepted borders, or be excluded from the Israel Football Association.

“I am not asking FIFA to suspend Israel, we just want it to apply the rules,” said Scottish National Party MEP Alyn Smith, who launched the appeal.

“Allowing Israel to use football as an instrument of territorial expansion in the West Bank politicizes football — and this is not acceptable,” he said in a statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter, May 19, 2015 (screen capture: YouTube/IsraeliPM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter, May 19, 2015 (screen capture: YouTube/IsraeliPM)

All five clubs play in the third and fourth divisions.

The Palestinians have long opposed the participation in the Israeli championships of the same five clubs.

In their letter, the European parliament members said: “FIFA should rule that settlement clubs either fully relocate within Israel’s internationally recognized borders or are excluded from the Israeli Football Association.”

It said the clubs were located on Palestinian land seen as occupied by the UN and therefore should fall under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA).

The five teams are Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Bikat Hayarden (Jordan Valley) and Givat Zeev.

FIFA is expected to discuss the issue at its October 13-14 council meeting, Smith said.

Crimea as precedent

The MEPs cited UEFA’s 2014 decision to ban Crimean football clubs from taking part in Russian competitions as a precedent for barring the settlement teams.

Ofer Eini (right), Israel's soccer chief, shakes hands with his Palestinian counterpart Jibril Rajoub at FIFA's Zurich congress, May 29, 2015 (Channel 2 screenshot)
Ofer Eini (right), Israel’s soccer chief, shakes hands with his Palestinian counterpart Jibril Rajoub at FIFA’s Zurich congress, May 29, 2015 (Channel 2 screenshot)

Last year, the PFA threatened to table a resolution calling on FIFA to suspend Israel over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players in a move which also included a protest over the five settlement teams.

It withdrew the bid at the last minute.

Israel denounced the move as an attempt to mix politics and sport, saying such matters had no place within FIFA.

Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War in a move never recognized by the international community.

Israeli settlements built on land the Palestinians want for a future state are considered illegal under international law and Israel’s ongoing settlement construction has been a major stumbling block to decades of peace efforts.

Also Friday, Israel’s soccer association called for the banning of Italian fans who allegedly gave fascist salutes during this week’s clash between the two countries, saying it would send visual evidence.

Illustrative: Italy soccer team fans cheering before the start of the the Fifa World Cup 2018 qualification match between Israel and Italy at the Sami Ofer stadium in Haifa on September 5, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Italy soccer team fans cheering before the start of the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualification match between Israel and Italy at the Sami Ofer stadium in Haifa on September 5, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Several Italian fans are alleged to have made the salute during Monday’s World Cup qualifier in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, which Italy won 3-1.

“We have photos of several [Italian] fans doing a fascist salute,” Israel Football Association spokesman Shlomi Barzel told AFP.

“We are talking about a minority — five people at most — and we intend to send those photos to the Italian football association.”

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