Palestinian official suggests Holocaust guilt led FIFA not to sanction Israel

Palestinian official suggests Holocaust guilt led FIFA not to sanction Israel

Jibril Rajoub slams European countries for shielding Jewish state, says Palestinians are ‘scapegoats’ for past genocide against Jews

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Chairman of the Palestinian football (soccer) association Jibril Rajoub speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Al-Ram on October 29, 2017. (Abbas Momani/AFP)
Chairman of the Palestinian football (soccer) association Jibril Rajoub speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Al-Ram on October 29, 2017. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

European countries opposed any intervention by FIFA in a dispute between Israel and the Palestinians over soccer clubs in the West Bank, according to Palestinian Football [soccer] Association (PFA) chief Jibril Rajoub on Sunday.

Rajoub, speaking at Palestinian Football Association press conference in the West Bank town Al-Ram, cast the Palestinian soccer players as “scapegoats” for European crimes against the Jews during the Holocaust, for which those countries were now purportedly compensating in refusing to come down on the Jewish state.

The PFA had demanded FIFA sanctions over six teams playing in the Israeli league, which are based in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The international community considers all Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal.

On Friday, the world body’s ruling council declined to adopt any of three possible actions recommended by an international commission that spent more than two years looking at the long-running battle.

The FIFA Council said it “must remain neutral with regard to political matters,” in line with the world body’s statutes.

“It’s a shame for some European associations to defend and try to protect the Israeli racist and fascist government policies,” said Rajoub.

Rajoub did not say which Europeans countries specifically had asked FIFA to refrain from sanctioning Israeli teams, but suggested it was countries that had been complicit in the crimes of the Holocaust.

“I don’t think Palestinian players should be scapegoats from what some European countries did against the Jews last century,” he said.

He said that while the Asian Football Association had backed a decision by FIFA, it was pressure from European countries that tipped the international body in favor of inaction.

Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub addresses the FIFA Congress on May 29, 2015 (screen capture: FIFA)

“He who tried to defend Israel was UEFA,” said Rajoub, referring to the Union of European Football Associations.

Responding to the argument by FIFA that it must remain neutral in political matters, Rajoub highlighted UEFA intervention following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.

After the Russian invasion of the Crimean Peninsula, UEFA prevented Crimean teams from joining the Russian league because the annexation of the peninsula was not recognized by the international community.

Rajoub argued that the Palestinians were being held to a “different standard.”

Susan Shalabi-Molano, an executive member of the Asian Football Association and the director of the international department for the PFA, argued that FIFA could not avoid making a political decision.

“Deciding to do something about the settlements is a political decision. But there are those who say that not to decide anything and close the subject, just taking note of all these international resolutions… and deciding that they are not binding, is also politicizing the issue. So it goes both ways,” she said, referring to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which was mentioned by FIFA in its official statement saying it would not act against Israel.

“The FIFA Council takes note of the documents adopted by international governmental bodies concerning the relationship between Israel and Palestine — such as United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which comprises recommendations without sanctions — but has decided that it should not take any position on their contents,” the FIFA statement said.

The PFA said Israel had breached FIFA statutes, which state that a member country’s teams cannot play matches in the territory of another association without permission.

Israel said FIFA should stay out as there are no recognized frontiers for a Palestinian state.

“This is a clear violation, that they would organize an official league on land that is not Israeli land,” Rajoub said. “Even the Israeli league does not dare say this is their land.”

“Those who politicize sport are working according to a fascist government’s program, a typical Nazi government,” he added.

Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called the FIFA decision “a great victory.”

“The attempt of the instigator of terrorism Jibril Rajoub to use sports as a political weapon against Israel has failed and we will continue to work to thwart the boycott initiatives of the Palestinians,” Erdan said.

FIFA in 2015 appointed a commission led by Tokyo Sexwale, a South African businessman and politician, to look into the complaints.

The FIFA Council, in an extraordinary move, refused to let the world body’s annual congress in May take a decision on Sexwale’s report, and said it would choose the action. Its final decision rejected all the options put forward by Sexwale.

New FIFA president Gianni Infantino (C) reacts after winning the soccer world body’s presidential election in Zurich on February 26, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/OLIVIER MORIN)

After FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s refusal to allow the FIFA Congress to vote on Sexwale’s report, the Palestinians filed a motion in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) saying that Infantino had violated FIFA procedure. CAS is expected to give a ruling on this case January.

Shalabi-Molano said the Palestinians were now also considering whether to open a new case with CAS following FIFA’s decision on Friday.

The CAS could force FIFA to hold a vote at its next congress on the Palestinian demands.

Infantino said that FIFA would follow any CAS decision.

AFP contributed to this report. 

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