Palestinian Football Association Jibril Rajoub has been suspended for a year from soccer matches on Friday, and fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,300) by the FIFA disciplinary board.
The suspension came is in light of calls by Rajoub to burn the jerseys of Argentine soccer player Lionel Messi ahead of his national team’s expected match against Israel on June 9, which was eventually cancelled.
Rajoub “incited hatred and violence” by calling on “football fans to target the Argentinian Football Association and burn jerseys and pictures of Lionel Messi,” soccer’s governing body said.
Justifying the cancellation of the game, Argentina Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie alleged that the players felt “totally attacked, violated” after images emerged of Argentina’s white and sky-blue striped jerseys stained with red paint that resembled blood following Rajoub’s comments. No evidence is given by FIFA that this is indeed the case. In fact, a member of the Argentina squad, Gonzalo “El Pipa” Higuaín, who is also a star striker for top Italian club Juventus, told ESPN that “the right thing was not to go to Israel.”
FIFA imposed the minimum ban allowed in its disciplinary code for inciting hatred or violence. It prevents Rajoub from attending matches or engaging with the media at or near stadiums on matchdays for a year from Friday.
FIFA’s hypocrisy is boundless. On September 24 FIFA honoured Luka Modrić of Croatia, as World Player of the Year. His pro-fascist behaviour at the state welcome for the national team on July 15 following the 2018 World Cup in Zagreb shocked the Balkans. As the team bus made its way through a rally of some 500,000 people in the capital, Mr Modrić, the national team captain who won FIFA’s Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament, invited fascist singer-songwriter Marko Perkovic aka “Thompson” (pictured) to join the squad to the open-top bus. “Thompson” is known for his glorification of the German Nazi- and Vatican-created and racially pure puppet state of the Ustaša during World War II.
What caused the cancellation
The unpalatable reality for FIFA is that Argentina’s cancellation of the “friendly” match came amid a wave of new support since Israel’s killings of more than 100 Great March of Return participants in the spring that even Amnesty International dubbed a “murderous assault.”
The cancellation was a huge blow to Israel. It came after an intense global campaign that kicked off in Argentina and continued in Latin America and Catalonia in Spain, where the national team was practising for the 2018 World Cup in Barcelona, home to Mr Messi’s club side Barcelona, wrote Ali Abunimah at the time.
It urged Argentina not to help Israel whitewash its most recent massacres of unarmed civilians in Gaza. It would have been the last match before the team’s official participation in the World Cup.
Israeli snipers shot Mr Obeid in both of his knees, ending a promising football career, during the first Great March of Return rallies near the Gaza-Israel boundary on March 30.
Argentina was one of a handful of countries at the time backing U.S. president Donald Trump’s move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Brazilian legislator Gabriel Solano said that the cancellation was a blow to the government of Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri “which had imposed [the match with Israel] on the squad as part of its agreements with the criminal Netanyahu.”
The stadium that was to originally host the match is situated in a neighbourhood built on the site of a former Palestinian village destroyed during the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948. “The match itself is to take place in a stadium built on one of the at least 418 Palestinian villages destroyed by Israel 70 years ago, Al Malha,” said the letter sent by Mr Rajoub to his Argentine colleague Claudio Tapia before the game
It made clear that the basis of the request was the obstinacy about holding the game in Jerusalem. Mr Rajoub wrote to Tapia:
“The original field of the match was Haifa. However and after political pressure took place from the Israeli government, as it was openly said by Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev, the match was moved to Jerusalem. This is a decision that, given the current context, the Palestine Football Association utterly rejects and condemns.
“The Israeli government has turned a regular sports match into a political tool. As was widely covered in Argentine media, the match now is being played in order to celebrate the ‘70th anniversary of the State of Israel.’”
“The match itself is to take place in a stadium built on one of the at least 418 Palestinian villages destroyed by Israel 70 years ago, Al Malha,” said the letter.
The letter concludes with Mr Rajoub citing the immense support the Argentinian national team has in the Arab world. “It would be a shame that this historic relationship would be lost due to the AFA’s acceptance to become part of Israel’s tools to normalize its grave and systematic violations of International Law and Human Rights.”
Indeed, the Israeli newspaper Haaretez wrote in an editorial on June 6:
“the game was originally planned to take place in the new municipal stadium in Haifa, but Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev decided to turn the friendly match into a show of political power. Regev forced the taxpayers to fund the game’s change of location, at a price tag of 2.7 million shekels ($760,000), to Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. Regev even took pride that the world’s masses of followers of the star of the Argentine national team, Lionel Messi, would watch the game in Jerusalem (‘kissing the Kotel’), and this would be a victory for Israeli public relations ‘in this period, which is marked by the BDS movement.’”
“Israel rushed to put into operation the automatic mechanisms of victimization. Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, directly responsible for this fiasco, claimed that the Argentine players received terror threats, saying that ‘this is the same terrorism that led to the murder of eleven slain athletes in Munich.’
“But the cancellation of the game is a harsh blow to Israeli public relations efforts, which have tried time after time to blur the fact that Jerusalem stands at the center of the conflict with the Palestinians, and that the moving of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem has been received with objection by most countries in the world.”
Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a far-right Zionist politician, tweeted that “the knights of soccer from Argentina could not withstand the pressure of the Israel-hating inciters whose sole goal was to damage our basic right to self- defence and to bring about the destruction of Israel.”
Israel openly uses sports – like the Giro d’Italia cycle race – for its political propaganda, while on the other hand it accuses athletes who refuse to be used in that manner of being the ones to play politics.
The ban of Mr Rajoub will apply for the 2019 Asian Cup in United Arab Emirates, which kicks off in January, and likely include the start of the 2022 World Cup qualifying program.
Mr Rajoub is able to continue his day-to-day work running the federation and attend FIFA meetings. He has been a constant thorn in the side of soccer’s governing body as he tries to get sanctions imposed on Israel.
At the annual FIFA Congress, Mr Rajoub regularly addresses soccer nations to demand Israel be punished for restricting movement of Palestinian players, and for forming teams in West Bank settlements. “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,” according to Haaretez.
FIFA has made clear where it stands on who has “incited hatred and violence.”
With files from Haaretez, Associated Press, Balkan Insight and Electronic Intifada