May 25, 2024 | Townhall

FIFA Is Latest Target of Palestinian Hijacking

May 25, 2024 | Townhall

FIFA Is Latest Target of Palestinian Hijacking

The Palestinian political intifada reached FIFA, soccer’s governing body, last Friday. Cloaked in the language of justice and human rights, the Palestinian FIFA delegation continued its decades-long campaign of using sports as a weapon against the Jewish state.

Palestine Football Association head Jibril Rajoub presented his request to expel Israel from FIFA at the conclusion of the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, Thailand. The Islamic Republic of Iran issued a similar request in February to bar Israel’s national team and Israeli club teams from competing in international play.

Rajoub complained that Israel discriminates against Palestinian soccer by allowing Israeli teams in the West Bank to participate in Israeli leagues. Rajoub claimed that Israel is also harming Palestinian soccer by “indiscriminately bombing civilians” and inflicting an “apartheid colonial occupation.” Hoping delegates wouldn’t scrutinize his baseless claims, Rajoub urged FIFA to “stand on the right side of history.”

Israeli soccer chief Moshe Zuares, wearing a yellow ribbon in honor of the Israeli hostages that remain in Gaza, noted that Israel is still unable to host soccer matches in the north or south of the country due to threats of attack. Responding to Rajoub, Zuares said that soccer “must be a key element in healing the fractures and wounds” and that it should be a unifying force. The Israeli soccer leader spoke of how he had supported the Palestinian bid to join FIFA as a full member. Zuares called it an “injustice” that Israel is “fighting for [its] basic right to be part of the game.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino echoed Zuares’s sentiment, stating, “Football is here to unite, not to divide,” and it must not become “a hostage of politics.” However, Infantino announced that FIFA will solicit legal expertise to address the Palestinian request and that it will report back by July 20.

Jibril Rajoub is not the ideal social justice advocate. Rajoub earned a life sentence from Israel in 1970 for hurling a grenade at an Israeli military truck — though Jerusalem released him 15 years later in a prisoner exchange. Seemingly unrepentant, Rajoub declared in 2013 that if given the opportunity, he would drop a nuclear bomb on Israel.

Rajoub has endorsed resistance “in all its forms,” a euphemism for violence, and praised stabbing attacks against Israelis in 2015 as “individual acts of bravery.” Rajoub justified Hamas’s October 7 massacre as a “natural reaction to oppression” and said that “Hamas is part of our political and social fabric and of our struggle.” 

Rajoub has consistently used his sports perch to denounce Israel, saying in January that “sport is part of our resistance.” Rajoub’s hostility was apparent in 2012 when he opposed a moment of silence for the Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists in the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. In 2014, Rajoub opposed an Israeli-Palestinian coexistence match. Rajoub has campaigned to kick Israel out of FIFA since at least 2013 and launched targeted pushes in 2015 and 2017.

After FIFA refused to sanction Israel for alleged discrimination in 2017, declaring that it did not want to stray into politics, Rajoub employed more aggressive tactics. In 2018, FIFA fined Rajoub and suspended him for a year over what it determined to be incitement to violence against Argentinean phenom Lionel Messi. Rajoub’s hostile rhetoric came as part of his campaign to cancel a planned Argentina-Israel match.

While Rajoub has been using sports to divide, Infantino has seen soccer as a way of bringing people together. Infantino visited Israel in 2021 and proposed that Israel and the Palestinians could host World Cup games together in the future as a sign of unity. Rajoub responded by canceling his meeting with the FIFA chief.

Infantino also held up Israel’s national team, composed of Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, as a positive example of coexistence. Israeli-Arabs were an integral part of Israel’s stunning third-place finish in the under-20 World Cup in the spring of 2023, becoming national heroes. Indonesia was supposed to host the tournament, which was ultimately held in Argentina, but FIFA stripped Jakarta of the privilege over its inability to guarantee the Israeli team unhindered participation in the tournament. This was a bright spot for FIFA upholding the values of fair play and standing up to discrimination.

Israel enjoyed a brief spell of international sympathy after Hamas perpetrated the worst slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust. But the Jewish state’s attempt to prevent Hamas from repeating the October 7 massacre, which the terrorist group has vowed to do, has unleashed a global wave of anti-Israel hysteria. Using a veneer of human rights concern, Rajoub is taking advantage of this momentum to continue his attacks on Israel.

Whether on the battlefield, in the court of public opinion, in criminal courts, or on the soccer pitch, Palestinian leaders are engaged in a total war against Israel. Infantino should prevent FIFA from becoming the latest hostage in the Palestinian campaign to destroy Israel.

David May is a research manager and senior research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. Follow David on X @DavidSamuelMay. Follow FDD on X @FDD.


Israel Palestinian Politics