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Fifa head succumbs to Israeli pressure on illegal settlement teams

31st Mar 2017
Fifa head succumbs to Israeli pressure on illegal settlement teams

Beitar Givat Ze’ev football team are based in the Giv’at Ze’ev settlement in the West Bank, they are one of five other Israeli clubs to play in illegal settlements. Human right NGOs say Fifa President, Gianni Infantino (inset) inaction makes Fifa complicit in the violation of international law (Photo: Creative Commons)

Harun Nasrullah

Fifa President, Gianni Infantino, has been accused of succumbing to political pressure after he failed to implement rules which would have compelled the Israeli Football Association to expel six of its clubs based in illegal settlements.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a coalition of Palestinian activists and human right NGOs are also urging Infantino – who they say has abandoned his election pledge to steer Fifa out of the ethics scandals – to dissolve Fifa’s Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine after it missed yet another deadline to publish its recommendations in time for the upcoming Fifa Congress in May.

The lower league clubs under investigation are all located in the Occupied West Bank. They include Beitar Givat Ze’ev, Beitar Ironi Ariel, Ironi Yehuda, Beitar Ironi Maale Adumim and Hapoel Bik’at Hayarden.

The Palestine FA’s President, Jibril Rajoub, is now reportedly set to reactivate the demand that May’s Fifa Congress in Bahrain expels Israel, a proposal which has been taken off the table at the last moment three times in the last four years.

In a statement to The Muslim News Sharaf Qutaifan of PACBI said Infantino’s inaction is making the world’s football governing body “complicit” in Israel’s violation of international law. “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 FA’s violation of Fifa statutes,” he said.

“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,” added Qutaifan.

Established in May 2015 the Committee was initially due to submit its report to the Fifa Council in October 2016. A Fifa Council meeting on January 10 this year only resulted in a broken promise from Infantino that a final report by the Committee would be published on February.

Fifa and the Committee’s approach of merely encouraging the Israeli FA to “talk the issues out” with the Palestinian FA has been widely condemned.

Kwara Kekana of BDS South Africa accused Fifa of negotiating on non-debatable international law. “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,” said Kekana.

He added, “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.”

Others have accused Infantino of deploying double standards in the implementation of international law in football. In 2014 Infantino, then the General Secretary of 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 a 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.”

The PACBI say Fifa’s failure to act against the Israeli FA renders it complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and violates its own rules, which forbid member FA’s from playing in the territory of another member association without permission.

The accusation of complicity was also echoed by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report published in September 2016.

In the report HRW said that the issue is not merely a dispute between two FA’s over the interpretation of Fifa rules, instead, they say, “Fifa is engaging in business activity that supports Israeli settlements, contrary to the human rights commitments it recently affirmed.”

HRW also accused Infantino of ignoring an April 2016 report, commissioned by Fifa in which John Ruggie, the author of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP), makes specific recommendations for Fifa to implement the UNGP in its ruling.

The Palestinian FA, Palestinian and international campaigners, HRW, 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 FA if it refuses to comply. Almost ten thousand football fans wrote to Fifa President Infantino last month demanding urgent action on Israeli settlements, but Fifa has failed to act.

Red Card Israeli Racism Coordinator, Dr Geoffrey, 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.”

BDS Switzerland activist, Roman Vonwil, 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.

BDS Egypt’s Batoul Al Mehdar, called 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.”

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