FIFA probing Palestinian soccer chief for incitement, promotion of terror

January letter surfaces telling Jibril Rajoub there is evidence he breached body’s bylaws; Rajoub, already serving a 12-month ban, could be fined and kept away for 5 more years

Head of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril Rajoub speaks during a press conference in Ramallah, February 12, 2014. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Head of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril Rajoub speaks during a press conference in Ramallah, February 12, 2014. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

The governing body of international soccer earlier this year opened an investigation against the head of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, on suspicion that he breached its bylaws by glorifying terrorism and inciting to hatred and violence, according to a pro-Palestinian website and an Israeli NGO.

FIFA’s ethics committee sent a letter to Rajoub in January saying there was apparent evidence that he had violated its rules and requiring him to respond in writing if he wants to challenge a range of examples, included in a 2017 complaint by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW).

The confidential letter was leaked last week by pro-Palestinian website Electronic Intifada.

“FIFA Ethics Committee has opened these investigation proceedings after having determined that, on the basis of a document and relevant evidence submitted by Palestinian Media Watch… there is a prima facie case that you may have committed violations of the FIFA Code of Ethics,” the January 8 letter to Rajoub said.

The letter by FIFA’s chief of investigation in the Ethics Committee, Martin Ngoga, cited many alleged examples of Rajoub’s “promotion and glorification of terrorism,” “incitement to hatred and violence,” “discriminatory/denigratory statements and prohibiting the use of [soccer] as a bridge to peace” and the “use of [soccer] to promote a political agenda.”

Palestinian national soccer team plays against Bhutan national soccer team during the AFC Asian Cup qualifying match in Hebron, West Bank, October 10, 2017 (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Among the examples, most of which PMW said are supported by video evidence, are Rajoub allowing soccer tournaments and teams to be named after convicted terrorists who killed Israeli civilians, supporting a wave of Palestinian stabbing attacks in 2015-2016 and the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, refusing to approve the use of soccer to build bridges between Israel and the Palestinians, referring to Israelis as “sons of bitches,” likening the Jewish state to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, and abusing his position to try to ban Israel from FIFA and to promote his and his Fatah party’s political goals.

The letter said Rajoub would have to respond to the charges by January 18, 2019. Asked whether Rajoub had responded to the letter, Palestinian Football Association Vice President Susan Shalabi declined to comment, noting that FIFA rules do not allow her.

Responding to the probe, Shalabi lashed out against PMW.

“I think [Palestinian Media Watch] is biased, relies on information from questionable sources and they are closer to the extreme right than the mainstream in Israeli society,” she told The Times of Israel. “The proceedings are based entirely on documents provided by this organization.”

If Rajoub is found guilty, PMW said, he will face heavy fines and a ban on taking part in any soccer-related activities for up to five years.

PMW director Itamar Marcus welcomed the decision in a statement Wednesday and added: “It is demeaning for FIFA to allow a terror supporter who uses vile racist language to have any position attached to FIFA’s good name. Instead of using the beautiful game to build bridges and promote peace and co-existence, Rajoub uses his position to incite violence and to promote and glorify terror.

“I am hopeful that FIFA will now, once-and-for-all, permanently remove Rajoub from any position in FIFA, and cleanse this stain on international football.”

In August 2018, FIFA banned Rajoub from attending matches for a year and fined him 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,600) for “inciting hatred and violence” after he called on fans to burn posters and shirts of superstar Lionel Messi if he participated in an Argentina game in Jerusalem in June of that year.

Rajoub is currently serving his 12-month ban, which is set to expire in August, although he is still able to continue running the federation and attend FIFA meetings. It isn’t clear if FIFA’s investigation will conclude before the ban expires.

Rajoub had denied any wrongdoing after the ban was announced.

This June 5, 2018, picture shows a poster erected in the West Bank town of Hebron calling for a boycott of soccer star Lionel Messi (l) next to a portrait of the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (AFP PHOTO / HAZEM BADER)

“This is an unjust and political decision, an Israeli decision,” he said, pointing out that the complaint against him had come from the Israeli soccer federation, not the Argentinians.

The Palestinian federation had also lashed out at the decision as biased and “absurd.”

Rajoub had been filmed saying in Arabic, “We will target Messi and we will ask everyone to burn his T-shirt and his picture and to abandon him.”

Argentina eventually canceled the trip to Jerusalem for the June 9 game, which was meant to be a final warm-up before the 2018 World Cup. Argentina Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said at the time that players felt “totally attacked, violated” after images emerged of the team’s white and sky-blue striped jerseys stained with red paint resembling blood.

The punishment marked an embarrassing blow for Rajoub, who has long lobbied FIFA to sanction Israel for what he has called its restriction of movement of Palestinian players.

Israel has rejected the Palestinian campaign as an attempt to politicize sports and has cited security concerns as the reason behind the occasional restrictions placed on Palestinian players, particularly in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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