More than one hundred sports associations, trade unions, human rights organizations and faith based groups, representing millions of people from 28 countries across the globe, on Wednesday joined football champions, scholars, film directors, politicians and government officials in calling on FIFA’s Council members to insist that Israel’s national football league revoke the affiliation of seven clubs based in illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, or face suspension from FIFA.
Signatories delivered their letter to FIFA Council members ahead of FIFA’s upcoming 67th Congress on May 10-11, 2017. They include former UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, former Brazilian Minister for Human Rights Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, South African Communist Party Central Committee Member and Minister of Sports & Recreation Thulas Nxesi (signed in his personal capacity), renowned British filmmakers Ken Loach and Paul Laverty, former Peruvian football champion Juan Carlos Oblitas Saba and former athlete and President of Peru’s Congress Daniel Fernando Abugattás Majluf, and the Brazilian trade union CUT with over 7.4 million members.
The letter criticizes FIFA for repeated delays and selective enforcement of its own rules, which prohibit any member federation from holding matches on the territory of another without the latter’s approval. The Israeli national league is clearly violating FIFA’s own rules by holding matches in occupied Palestinian Territory, against the wishes of the Palestinian federation.
Juan Carlos Oblitas Saba, the Athletic Director of the Peruvian Football Federation and a retired football champion who represented Peru dozens of times on the international stage, said, “FIFA’s position concerning human rights should be as transparent as possible, and no country can be above the United Nations’ rulings on the [Israeli] settlements invading the Palestinian Territories. I have dedicated my entire life to football, I have never intervened in politics, but this goes beyond the pale, especially with respect to the rights and dignity of the Palestinian people.”
At a recent event in Johannesburg, South African Parliamentarian and member of the South African Parliament Football Club, P.J. Mguni said: “Apartheid Israel must be banned from FIFA international events and isolated because sports boycott against inhumane and unfair sports could go a long way to restoring peace and dignity in that region especially for the Palestinian people…our fellow South Africans must understand that the international community constituted a great part of our support systems in terms of the international isolation of apartheid South Africa back before 1994. In the same manner oppressed people anywhere are part of us, so as South Africans from all corners we must really support people who are still struggling for emancipation like the Palestinians are doing under the notorious Israel apartheid state.”
Hind Awwad from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel said, “Israel is using ‘the beautiful game’ to whitewash its violations of international law and human rights, and FIFA is shamefully standing by allowing this to happen, damaging its own reputation. FIFA must realize that Palestinian and international human rights defenders will not abandon their legitimate demand for FIFA to ultimately suspend the Israeli Football Association due to its inclusion of Israeli settlements clubs based on stolen Palestinian land, and to Israel’s routine targeting of Palestinian sports, deliberate destruction of football stadiums and arrest, torture and restriction of movement of Palestinian athletes.”
Dr Geoff Lee from Red Card Israeli Racism (UK), said, “Getting rid of racism in football will help eliminate the tragically high level of racism practiced by the Israeli state. Israeli laws, military actions and bureaucratic obstacles repress Palestinian football as well as the whole Palestinian community. Sanctions are needed to generate change. We demand FIFA sanctions Israel by suspending the Israeli Football Association from FIFA and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), until Israel observes international law and respects the human rights of Palestinians.”
The letter’s signatories include the Italian Union of Sport for All (UISP), with 1.3 million members and more than 17,750 affiliated sports associations, Sport Against Violence in Iraq, organizers of the Baghdad Marathon, the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement representing over 1.5 million people in one of the largest social movements in Latin America, the UK charity War on Want and NGO platforms from France (40 organizations) and Norway (30 organizations).
The letter was endorsed by a number of faith based groups, including Pax Christi UK, Friends of Sabeel UK and North America, American Friends Service Committee, Lutherans for Justice in the Holy Land, United Church of Christ Palestine Israel Network, United Methodists for Kairos Response (UMKR), Episcopal Peace Fellowship Palestine Israel Network and Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East.
A number of Jewish groups have endorsed the letter, including Jewish Voice for Peace, with over 60 chapters in the United States, South African Jews for a Free Palestine, the Union of French Jews for Peace, Jews for Justice for Palestinians-UK, Sweden’s Jews for a Just Peace between Israel and Palestine and the Swiss-based Jewish Voice for Democracy and Justice in Israel/Palestine.
Tokyo Sexwale, chair of the FIFA Israel Palestine Monitoring committee set up in 2015 to resolve issues affecting the development of football in Palestine, presented a draft report on March 22, 2017. This report proposed three different ways for FIFA to resolve the issue of Israeli settlement clubs: by maintaining the status quo and risking legal action, by calling for renewed negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian national football leagues, or by giving the Israel Football Association six months “to rectify the situation.”