FIFA's Other Crisis: Israeli-Palestinian Feud Plays Out In Soccer World

While attention was focused on alleged corruption at FIFA, another kind of drama was playing out between the Israeli and Palestinian soccer delegations.

Palestinian soccer chief Jibril Rajoub giving Israel a red card at the FIFA Congress in Zurich on May 29
Palestinian soccer chief Jibril Rajoub giving Israel a red card at the FIFA Congress in Zurich on May 29
Ouriel Daskal


TEL AVIV — Palestinian soccer chief Jibril Rajoub got what he wanted at last week's FIFA Congress: the proper stage to humiliate Israel and raise the issue of oppression in Gaza and the West Bank. As a result, FIFA will need to initiate more actions with Palestinians to avoid further discussions about Israel's legitimacy in the world.

Though Rajoub withdrew his demand to suspend Israel from international competition, he gave a dramatic speech covered by media the world over in which he criticized Israel for racism and asked for the creation of a "mechanism" to address Palestinian concerns — namely that Palestinian soccer players don't have free movement and that donated soccer equipment entering the territories is taxed.

But most importantly, the gathering of the FIFA Congress gave Rajoub a platform. "Many people tried to convince me to call off my demand," he told the gathering. "I believe Israel should be suspended, but I appreciate every person who asked me, and I know how sad it is to suspend an association from FIFA, so I withdraw my demand. But I will not give up the fight for my people. This is the moment to give a red card to racism in the Palestinian authority and everywhere else."

Rajoub said he made the suspension demand after many representatives pushed him to do so, especially the South African delegate. He then took advantage of his position on stage to humiliate the Israeli delegation and to say that he received death threats from Israelis.

The right response

The Israeli reaction was swift. Ofer Eini, head of Israel's soccer association, made a very determined speech demanding that his "friend" Rajoub "leave politics to politicians," and saying that he supported the idea that sports can be a bridge for peace talks.

At the end of his speech, Eini asked Rajoub to shake his hand, to which his Palestinian counterpart answered that he would like to but only after the Congress voted on his proposal. It did, with 165 members supporting the creation of a committee to solve the problems between the Israeli and Palestinian soccer associations and 18 voting against.

The big victory for Israel is that the body won't discuss or make decisions on political issues such as territoriality. But Rajoub got what he wanted.

After the successful vote, Eini went to shake Rajoub's hand and received praise for doing so. In the face of Rajoub's sweeping rhetoric, Eini showed determination to solve the problems. It was one hell of a show, and it will have long-term repercussions.

The Israeli soccer association will now have to be a lot more active — by offering friendly matches on a regular basis, by showing support for building new soccer fields in the Palestinian territories, and by creating a real partnership with Palestinian soccer so it doesn't find itself in this situation again.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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