Anger at FIFA’s inertia over settlement clubs
Reports from Palestine Monitor and PACBI.
Palestinian football-playing boys hold red cards in front of Israeli occupation forces during a demonstration against the Israel Football Federation in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh on 29 May. Photo by Shadi Hatem APA images
By Palestine Monitor
March 16, 2017
When Gianni Infantino became head of FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) last year, he said dealing with issues related to Palestinian football would be one of his priorities. However, many activists who support the Palestinian struggle now believe he failed.
On March 9, a coalition of international and Palestinian organizations denounced and called for the dissolution of the FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine founded in spring 2015. They say the committee, whose purpose was to monitor and act upon violations of FIFA rules in the Palestinian Territories and Israel, failed to achieve one fundamental goal: compelling Israel’s national football league to exclude six football teams based in illegal Israeli settlements –most notably a team in Ma’ale Adumim, one of the largest settlements in the West Bank, located in the sensitive ‘E1 corridor’ in the outskirts of Jerusalem.
The most visible failure of the committee is that it was supposed to submit an extensive report on various issues concerning Palestinian and Israeli football to the FIFA Council in October 2016 – but never released it.
The Palestinian football leadership has been calling on FIFA to take action about Palestinian players, including from the national team, who have been unable to travel to international games after being denied permits from the Israeli authorities, as well as difficulties for the players to travel even inside the Palestinian territories, be it inside the occupied West Bank where they are often facing road blocks and checkpoints, and therefore delays; or between the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East-Jerusalem, making it difficult to hold the games for a Palestinian championship that would gather all Palestinian teams. Palestinians also argue that the military occupation and status of Area C, where Israeli authorities have to issue permits for anything to be built, prevents Palestinian football from growing as it restrains the ability to build new facilities.
There are other problems in Israel, where Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are sometimes segregated from other citizens of the country in football leagues, and where some Israeli teams have been known for chanting racist slogans in stadiums.
The past few months have seen a very active campaign to expel the 6 Israeli clubs based in West Bank settlements from the national Israeli football league. Asian football’s governing body (AFC) has urged FIFA to urgently resolve the problem, as well as organization such as Human Rights Watch, and of course, the Palestinian Football Association.
Under FIFA rules, a national association can operate teams in the territory of another national association only with its consent, which Palestine has never granted to Israel. The fact that those teams are part of the Israeli league contradicts FIFA rules because they are not based in Israel.
By letting settlement teams be part of the Israeli league, FIFA implicitly recognizes settlements – which are illegal under international law. Last December, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted a resolution against settlements.
Resolution 2334 states that Israel’s settlement activity constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and has “no legal validity”. It demands that Israel stop such activity and fulfill its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
A FIFA Council meeting took place on January 10 to discuss these issues. FIFA President Gianni Infantino promised yet again a report by the FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine would be published within a month. But that promise was never fulfilled, and to date, FIFA failed to answer criticism against its apathy.
Palestinians call for the dissolution of the FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine, used as cover for FIFA to prevent action on Israeli settlements.
By PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel)
March 09, 2017
A wide coalition of Palestinian and international organisations denounced FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s failure to compel Israel’s national football league to exclude six football teams based in illegal Israeli settlements and called for the dissolution of the FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine.
Gianni Infantino, promised a fresh start.
FIFA’s failure to act against the Israeli settlement clubs renders it complicit in Israel’s violations of international law, and violates its own rules, which forbid member associations from playing in the territory of another member association without the latter’s permission.
The FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine, established in May 2015 and chaired by Tokyo Sexwale, was due to submit its report to the FIFA Council in October 2016. Israeli government officials have pressured the committee to soften its recommendations and prevent the exclusion of Israeli settlement clubs from its leagues.
Despite promises of accountability, it seems that FIFA has bowed to Israeli pressure and is delaying the publication of its committee’s report indefinitely, therefore making more difficult action on the issue in the upcoming FIFA Congress in May 2017.
Sharaf Qutaifan, from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), said,
“The FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine has failed to deliver on its mandate and should be dissolved. FIFA and the committee have bowed to political pressure, refusing to take meaningful action to end the Israeli Football Association’s violation of FIFA statutes. FIFA is breaching its own duty of neutrality and is discriminating against Palestine. Infantino has abandoned his promise to make a clean break from the corruption of his predecessor Sepp Blatter, and has instead followed in his footsteps.”
The Palestinian Football Association, Palestinian and international campaigners, Human Rights Watch, lawmakers and the UN Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace Wilfried Lemke have long urged FIFA to ensure that football teams based in illegal Israeli settlements are excluded from Israeli football leagues. They have asked FIFA to suspend the Israeli Football Association (IFA) if it refuses to comply. Almost ten thousand football fans wrote to FIFA President Gianni Infantino last month demanding urgent action on Israeli settlements, but FIFA has failed to act.
Kwara Kekana of BDS South Africa said, “South Africans know too well how ‘constructive engagement’ helped perpetuate apartheid and the suffering of black South Africans. Similarly, the false premise of the FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine is that the parties can talk the issues out, but there is no middle ground when it comes to international law and FIFA’s own rules. FIFA must end this sham process of committees or face widespread protest and condemnation for its double-standards.”
Dr. Geoffrey Lee, coordinator of Red Card Israeli Racism, said, “It’s hard to see a logical reason for delaying the decision on Israel’s illegal settlements’ clubs and Israel’s persistent attacks against Palestinian football. FIFA statutes are crystal clear. This is yet another instance of Israel’s political bullying tactics to deny Palestinian human rights.”
In 2014 Gianni Infantino, then the General Secretary of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the governing body of football in Europe, banned clubs in the annexed Crimea region from playing in competitions in Russia. Raffaele Spiga, a human rights campaigner based in Bologna, and member of BDS Italy, said, “We are seeing a double standard applied by Infantino. He talks about protecting football from political interference but he is making the issue of Israeli settlement clubs political instead of just applying FIFA’s own rules. His reluctance to act brings football into disrepute.”
Roman Vonwil, a Palestine solidarity activist based in Bern, and member of BDS Switzerland, said, “We will continue to raise the issue of Israeli attacks on Palestinian football at every possible opportunity. FIFA is legitimising settlements, considered war crimes under international law, and is allowing for racism and discrimination to persist in football, contradicting Infantino’s promise to clean-up the game.”
The Red Card Israel Campaign has spread to the Arab countries holding a seat at the FIFA Council, with fans demanding their federations propose a resolution demanding Israel’s suspension. Batoul Al Mehdar, a football fan in Cairo and member of BDS Egypt, concluded, “We call on the FIFA Council to sanction Infantino for going back on his promises and failing to meet his responsibilities. Football fans in the Arab world are watching FIFA closely and expect Israel to be held to the same standards as everyone else. We denounce FIFA’s Euro-centric approach, privileging the interests of its European members over the interests of the game. Israel must not be given a free pass.”
Palestinians have long complained to FIFA about Israeli attacks against Palestinian players. Israel has arrested and tortured Palestinian athletes, denied their freedom of movement, and bombed their football stadiums. This is in addition to Israel’s routine disruption of Palestinian efforts to import necessary football equipment. Racism is rampant in Israeli football, evident in Israel’s segregated youth leagues that separate Jewish players from non-Jewish players, and the violent anti-Palestinian racism of Beitar Jerusalem club and fans who are notorious for chanting, “Death to theArabs.”
In April 2016, a report by John Ruggie, former UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, called on FIFA to do more to respect human rights. The recommendations led FIFA to enshrine a commitment to human rights in its statutes. The latest UN Security Council resolution 2334 reiterated the illegality of Israeli settlements, giving impetus to the efforts targeting settlement clubs in FIFA.
Israeli settlements are not only unlawful under international humanitarian law, but they also contribute to serious human rights abuses. The settlement clubs play their home games on land unlawfully seized from Palestinians. Settlements are also a direct cause of harsh restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement, access to natural resources and ability to run businesses or build homes. International law considers settlements to be war crimes.
The strategic document “FIFA 2.0: the Vision for the Future”, published by FIFA in October 2016, promises that the organisation will be governed by the principles of transparency, accountability, inclusivity and cooperation.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was initiated in 2004 to contribute to the struggle for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality. It advocates for a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions for their deep and persistent complicity in Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights that are stipulated in international law.
Visit PACBI at https://bdsmovement.net/pacbi and follow us on Twitter @PACBI