FIFA handed Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), a 12-month suspension from attending matches in a professional capacity and a fine of 20,000 Swiss francs for inciting hatred and violence. The FIFA ruling cited Rajoub’s call to burn jerseys and pictures of Argentinian star Lionel Messi ahead of a friendly match between the South American powerhouse and Israel. Argentina ultimately canceled the match for its players’ safety. FIFA’s ruling is a welcome warning to those who seek to discriminate against Israel or incite violence against the Jewish state, but it does not go far enough.
Rajoub’s campaign to cancel the match was by no means the first time he had politicized sports. In 2012, Rajoub opposed a moment of silence for the victims of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, arguing that it would lead to the “spreading of racism.” Since at least 2013, Rajoub has led a campaign to kick Israel out of FIFA.
Rajoub has also strongly endorsed violence and opposed peace. In 2014, Rajoub opposed an Israeli-Palestinian coexistence match, declaring, “Any activity of normalization in sports with the Zionist enemy is a crime against humanity.” Though not related to sports, Rajoub has endorsed resistance “in all its forms,” a euphemism for terrorism, and said that if the Palestinians had nuclear weapons, they would use them, presumably on Israel.
Despite Rajoub’s success in canceling the Argentina-Israel friendly match, the sports boycott against Israel appears to be waning. In August, Scotland’s soccer federation resisted calls to cancel its friendly match with Israel. In May and July respectively, Israel hosted major international competitions in cycling and lacrosse.
Meanwhile, sporting authorities have compelled boycotting countries to curtail their exclusion of Israel. In July, the International Judo Federation banned the UAE and Tunisia from hosting tournaments because they would not guarantee equal treatment of Israeli competitors. Around the same time, Tunisia faced intense pressure from the World Chess Federation over concerns that the North African country would bar a seven-year-old Israeli girl from competing in a tournament. Tunisia relented in August and vowed to allow all competitors, including Israelis, to compete. This is the most recent action in a series of punishments that have steered discriminating countries away from boycotting Israel.
FIFA’s punishment of Rajoub is a very good first step and will hopefully convince Rajoub and others to cease their unsportsmanlike behavior. But it must be noted that FIFA sanctioned Rajoub for violating Article 53 of FIFA’s disciplinary code because of threats he made against Messi. This shows how seriously FIFA takes threats to its superstars. However, the soccer federation failed to discipline Rajoub for his campaign to impose a boycott on Israeli soccer. Nor did it respond to Rajoub’s 2013 call to “nuke” Israel. In other words, it is too soon to cheer for FIFA.
David May is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
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