Palestinian and international organizations have denounced FIFA president Gianni Infantino for failing to require the Israel Football Association to exclude teams based in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The world football governing body is also being urged to disband the so-called FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine amid signs it yielded to Israeli government pressure.
“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 Palestinian BDS National Committee, the coalition that leads the global movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, said on Thursday.
All Israeli settlements on occupied land are illegal under international law. The transfer of an occupying power’s civilian population to the territory it occupies is a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and thus a war crime.
Profiting from crime
Last year, Human Rights Watch charged FIFA with benefiting from serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by allowing the Israel Football Association to conduct games on occupied Palestinian land.
Human Rights Watch’s investigation into the six Israeli settlement clubs found that their playing fields are built on land seized from Palestinians.
Human Rights Watch revealed a cycle of profit made possible by the relationship between FIFA and the Israel Football Association, including the settler clubs.
The FIFA monitoring committee, chaired by Tokyo Sexwale, a veteran of the South African anti-apartheid struggle, was supposed to deliver a report on the matter to FIFA leaders last October.
But that report has been repeatedly delayed.
“Israeli government officials have pressured the committee to soften its recommendations and prevent the exclusion of Israeli settlement clubs from its leagues,” the Palestinian BDS National Committee stated.
“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.”
Geoffrey Lee, coordinator of the Red Card Israeli Racism campaign, called FIFA’s failure to act on settler clubs “another instance of Israel’s political bullying tactics to deny Palestinian human rights.”
In an interview with Newsweek published on Thursday, Sexwale said his committee would present its final report before the next congress.
He added that football “can play a role in bridge-building across the divide and fostering good neighborliness for peace amongst nations.” Sexwale said he was disheartened “to see tensions and conflicts in certain parts of the world like that between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Given the previous unexplained delays, campaigners are not likely to take much reassurance from Sexwale’s latest declaration.
“The FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine has failed to deliver on its mandate and should be dissolved,” Sharaf Qutaifan of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel said.
Kwara Kekana of BDS South Africa emphasized how “‘constructive engagement’ helped perpetuate apartheid and the suffering of Black South Africans.”
Kekana slammed the “false premise” of the FIFA committee “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.”
Violence against athletes
The issue of settler clubs is only one of many Palestinian complaints to FIFA about Israeli abuses.
Campaigners have highlighted Israel’s arrests and torture of Palestinian athletes, as well as severe movement restrictions imposed on them. Israeli youth football leagues are segregated and violent anti-Palestinian racism is rampant among fans.
Roman Vonwil of BDS Switzerland vowed that activists would maintain pressure on Zurich-based FIFA: “We will continue to raise the issue of Israeli attacks on Palestinian football at every possible opportunity.”
“FIFA is legitimizing 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.”