Prime Minister Netanyahu and FIFA President Blatter met Tuesday to discuss Palestinian attempts to oust Israel from world football. Both oppose the politicization of sports.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Tuesday in his Jerusalem office with Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA (Federation of the International Football Association), regarding the Palestinian demand to oust Israel from world soccer. Jabril Rajoub, president of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), claims that Israel persecutes Palestinian players and hinders their sports activities.
Netanyahu praised Blatter, who expressed opposition to suspending Israel, for “opposing the politicizing of sport.”
“Sport is a vehicle of goodwill among nations. The thing that could destroy the Football Association is politicizing it,” cautioned Netanyahu.” You politicize it once with Israel, then you politicize it for everyone, and it will cause the deterioration of a great institution.”
Blatter said he perceived FIFA as a strong organization that should “go into a peace situation and not into a fighting situation.” He viewed himself as being on a peace mission, explaining that “football shall connect people and not divide people.”
“Football is stronger than all the problems there could be. I’m sure we will find a solution,” he stated.
Ofer Eini, president of Israel’s football federation, said his organization has done its best to assist Palestinian soccer and will continue to do so, but that many issues were beyond its control and needed to be resolved at the political level.
Rotem Kemer, the Israeli federation’s chief executive, said Israel has approved more than 95 percent of the Palestinian requests this year for players to move between Gaza and the Palestinian Authority (PA) areas in Judea and Samaria as well as to travel abroad. In a conference call to foreign journalists, he said the Palestinian association was holding its Israeli counterpart “hostage in a fight against our government.”
Blatter proposed holding a peace match in Zurich between the Israeli and Palestinian national teams. Eini immediately accepted the offer. However, Palestinian Football Association (PFA) President Jibril Rajoub, who is heading the bid to oust Israel from FIFA, stated last September, when Palestinian and Israeli players met in southern Israel for a football match, that “any activity of normalization in sports with the Zionist enemy is a crime against humanity.”
Using Sports as a Cover for Terror
Palestinians claim that Israeli security restrictions limit the movement of their players, preventing them from visiting other teams and from obtaining soccer equipment. However, it seems that Palestinians have been using sports activities as another vehicle for terror.
For instance, the Shin Bet (Israel’s Security Agency) announced last June the arrest of a Palestinian soccer player for meeting with a Hamas terrorist in Qatar, which he had covered up as part of his team’s soccer tour.
Samah Fares Muhamed Marava, 22, of Qalqilya, left Israel with his team on a soccer tour in April. While in Qatar, he met with Talal Ibrahim Abd al-Rahman Sarim, a member of Hamas’s military wing, where he received money, a cellphone and written messages that he was to bring to Hamas terrorists in his hometown.
The Shin Bet said Marava “cynically exploited” his status as a soccer player to leave the country and make contacts with foreign Hamas agents.
Limor Livnat, minister of Culture and Sport at the time, sent a letter of protest to Blatter regarding the incident, saying that while “the State of Israel does not mix politics with sports,” FIFA must recognize that Marava’s acts were “aimed at harming the security” of Israel and its civilians.
The Palestinians, as part of their international campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state, put forward a proposal to suspend Israel from world soccer at the 209-nation FIFA meeting on May 29. Blatter opposes the suspension vote, saying Israel has not broken a single FIFA statute and that the organization must not become an avenue for political agendas. A 75-percent majority would be required in order to pass the motion.
Blatter met with Rajoub in Ramallah on Wednesday in a last-ditch attempt to have them withdraw their motion. Rajoub refused his attempts an any resolution of issues at hand.
By: Max Gelber, United with Israel
AP contributed to this report
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