Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday slammed a Palestinian motion to expel Israel from FIFA, soccer’s governing body, asserting that the move, up for vote in Zurich later in the day, constituted opposition to Israel’s right to exist.
“These days and at these hours right now, together with [Israel Football Association President] Ofer Eini and members of the football association, we are taking part in a persistent and just battle against the Palestinian attempt to undermine the legitimacy of Israel and Israeli soccer,” Netanyahu wrote on his official Facebook page.
“The Palestinian move to boycott Israel in the soccer arena and the international arena in general is not due to something we do or do not do. It stems from an opposition to our right to our own state.”
Netanyahu acknowledged that “Israel is not a perfect state. There is no such thing. But it is a state of values that protects human rights,” he said, in a region where such rights are widely violated. “No people wants peace and cooperation more than we do,” he said. “No democracy faces more challenges than Israel, and none does more to protect the values of morality, pluralism and humanity.”
Palestine, which has been a FIFA member since 1998, wants the governing body to expel Israel over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players. It also opposes the participation in the Israeli championships of five clubs located in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. If the motion passes at the FIFA congress, it would effectively leave Israel unable to participate in international soccer tournaments.
For the motion to pass, the Palestinian delegation must win more than three-quarters of the votes of the 209 soccer federations of FIFA.
On paper, Israel appears to be safe. Dozens of soccer federations have told Israeli officials in recent days that they would vote against the motion, and the European federation UEFA, which has 54 voting members, publicly sided with Israel.
But Israeli officials are worried nonetheless, according to the Haaretz daily, because the vote will be by secret ballot and many in the international community may choose to anonymously punish Israel for the perception that it is responsible for stalled peace talks and continued occupation of the West Bank.
AFP contributed to this report.