Israel urges UNESCO to knock Palestinian bid for FIFA ban

Soccer body head Blatter says he doesn’t have power to remove issue from agenda at May 29 meeting

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

Israel’s envoy to UNESCO on Tuesday called on the international body’s director general to express opposition to the Palestinian move to have Israel banned from FIFA, as the head of the world soccer body said his hands were tied on the issue.

Ambassador Carmel Shama-HaCohen said in a letter to Irina Bokova that the move by the Palestinian Authority was “negative and false politics by the Palestinians against Israel” which “broke records of audacity and depravity,” according to a Hebrew translation of the missive published by Israeli news site Ynet.

“Sport, culture and education are meant to bridge and join people together. In their way the Palestinians are insistent upon using them as political explosive vests and roadside bombs,” he said.

Palestinians say Israeli security restrictions are limiting movement of Palestinian players, visiting teams and soccer equipment and have put forward a proposal to suspend Israel from world soccer at the 209-nation FIFA meeting on May 29.

Shama-HaCohen’s message was published during a visit of FIFA President Sepp Blatter to Israel.

Blatter met earlier on Tuesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and was set to meet PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday.

Even though Blatter opposes the Palestinian bid to have Israel suspended from FIFA, he informed reporters that he didn’t have the power to take the issue off the agenda.

He said the move was a “very unusual and a very serious matter” but that Israel has not broken FIFA statutes.

Rotem Kemer, the Israeli federation’s chief executive, said Tuesday that Israel has approved more than 95 percent of the Palestinian requests this year for players to move between Gaza and the West Bank and to travel abroad. In a conference call to foreign journalists, he said the Palestinian association was holding its Israeli counterpart “hostage in a fight against our government.”

Netanyahu praised Blatter for opposing the politicization of sport. “Sport is a vehicle of goodwill among nations. The thing that could destroy the Football Association is politicizing it. You politicize it once with Israel, then you politicize it for everyone, and it will cause the deterioration of a great institution,” Netanyahu said.

Blatter was quoted late Tuesday, after talks with Netanyahu, saying: “Football is more than a game. Football has the power to connect people. Football has the power to construct bridges,” he said. “Football shall unite people and not divide people.”

Blatter said he was passing a message on from Netanyahu to the Palestinian football chiefs and it would be up to them how they responded.

“We are here in the King David (Hotel) and I feel I am a little bit in Camp David,” said Blatter referring to the country retreat of American presidents where down the years, largely away from the glare of the cameras, the likes of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have hosted peace talks between various parties.

“I have obtained a message and I will present this message to the (Palestinian) football association.

“What they do with this message it is then up to them but I will, and I will try until the FIFA congress is open — in exactly 10 days — that we can avoid such a situation,” added Blatter, who has said the issue is his ‘challenge number one’.

During his meeting with Blatter, Netanyahu said Israel would consider “certain” measures to help Palestinian soccer.

“We will discuss a certain number of measures that could improve the situation [of Paestinian soccer],” he said, without providing details.

As part of his vision of using sports as a bridge between people, Blatter proposed holding a peace match in Zurich between the Israeli and Palestinian national teams.

Seated alongside Blatter, the president of the Israeli federation, Ofer Eini, immediately accepted the offer. But the main issue bringing the FIFA president to the region appeared to remain unresolved.

Blatter said “a match for peace” would take place between the two sides in the wake of the spat, and that Netanyahu would attend.

“Yes he said that, that if a game will be played between Palestine and Israel and we organize it in Zurich he will be there and he said he would shake hands with everybody,” said the 79-year-old Swiss.

“We would be happy, FIFA in Zurich, to accept the organization of such a competition.”

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