FIFA urged to nix Israel’s West Bank soccer games


A human rights group called on FIFA, the governing body of international soccer, to quit sponsoring matches in the West Bank held by Israel’s soccer association.

“By holding games on stolen land, FIFA is tarnishing the beautiful game of football,” Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine country director for Human Rights Watch, said Monday. “FIFA should step up now to give settlement clubs a red card and insist the Israel Football Association play by the rules.”

Human Rights Watch said it had conducted an investigation of the Israel Football Association, a FIFA member, and found that the group holds games in West Bank settlements “on land unlawfully taken from Palestinians.”

Also, the Palestinian Football Association has accused its Israeli counterpart of violating FIFA rules by holding games without permission on the territory of another member group. A FIFA committee is set to submit recommendations on the issue by Oct. 13, according to the statement.

Human Rights Watch said a legal adviser for the Israel Football Association dismissed the relevance of its claims.

“[T]he purpose of the IFA is to benefit football. That is its sole concern. Political issues are not part of our ‘playing field,'” Efraim Barak told the group, according to the statement.

FIFA’s human rights manager, Andreas Graf, said he did not have time to respond to the investigation before its publication, but told Human Rights Watch that he would “endeavor to reply at a later date,” the statement said.

Bahraini soccer official uses apparent anti-Israel smear amid FIFA presidency campaign


The Jewish public relations director representing Prince Ali of Jordan’s campaign to be FIFA’s next president has wrongly been called an Israeli soccer player in an apparent smear tactic.

Bahrain’s soccer media officer, Mohammed al Mudaweb, falsely tweeted on Wednesday that Shimon Cohen, 55, a Welsh PR expert, was actually a 73-year-old former Israeli soccer player with the same name.

The former head of the Bahrain Football Association, Sheikh Salman, is the front-runner to succeed Sepp Blatter as the next president of FIFA, soccer’s international governing body.

“Simon Cohen like[sic] Israel team from 1962 until 1966, he leads today the campaign Prince Ali bin Al Hussein for Presidency,” Mudaweb tweeted with an image of the soccer player Cohen.

The Welsh Shimon Cohen countered in the Daily Mail.

“This is a disgraceful racist attack by Salman’s home FA, implying that just because I am a Jew, there is an Israeli plot afoot,” he said.

Israel to allow Palestinian soccer players to travel for West Bank match


Israel will allow a soccer match in the West Bank between a Palestinian team and a squad from the United Arab Emirates.

The Sept. 8 match at the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium in Al-Ram, northeast of Jerusalem, will test Israel’s stated willingness to relax its travel restrictions on Palestinian players.

In response to the Palestinian Football Association’s decision to drop its months-long lobbying effort to have Israel voted out of FIFA, Israel promised the international soccer organization in May that it would loosen its restrictions on Palestinian players traveling in and out of Gaza.

For the match to occur, Israel will need to allow some Palestinian players to travel from Gaza to the West Bank. The UAE players will be permitted to enter the West Bank through an Israeli border station in Jordan, Bloomberg reported.

Abdel Majeed Hijeh, general secretary of the Palestine Football Association, told Bloomberg that he does not expect Israel to loosen all its restrictions.

“We expect the Israeli side to impose obstacles, but it’s our right to hold the match,” he said.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Football Association had long complained about Israel’s strict travel rules against Palestinian players, which Israel said was for safety reasons. FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who has been linked to the organization’s massive corruption scandal, had met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in May to address the situation.

FIFA’s Israel-Palestinian committee meets for first time


A new FIFA committee began its attempt to settle the dispute between the Israeli and Palestinian football federations when it met for the first time on Wednesday, soccer's world governing body said.

The meeting was chaired by South African businessman and former political prisoner Tokyo Sexwale, who said that both sides had confirmed their intention to promote a dialogue.

The committee was set up following a heated exchange at the FIFA Congress in May, when the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) unexpectedly dropped its proposal to have Israel banned from international soccer.

The PFA has complained of anti-Arab racism in the Israeli game and accused Israel of hampering its activities and restricting the movement of players between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel cites security concerns for the restrictions, and the country's football association (IFA) has argued that it has no control over such matters. FIFA has been trying to settle the matter for more than two years.

One of the committee's tasks will be to monitor the freedom of players and officials to travel to and from the Palestinian territories.

“I'm very happy to start the process towards finding solutions,” said PFA president Jibril Rajoub in a FIFA statement.

His Israeli counterpart, Ofer Eini, added: “Both Mr Rajoub and I want fair conditions for our footballers.”

Sexwale, who declared this month that he was considering standing for the FIFA presidency, said he was “humbled” to chair the committee.

“This is not an easy task, but this meeting represents an important first step towards the consolidation of a regular exchange between the football associations of Israel and Palestine,” Sexwale said.

“I'm feeling confident after seeing the team spirit today, as both associations have confirmed their intention to promote dialogue.

“As we have witnessed in my home country South Africa, I'm convinced that here, too, we'll bring people together through the power of sport.”

Behind the BDS curtain: 10 years ago, Israel ignored Barghouti’s movement. Not anymore.


In recent years, no three letters have inspired more passion or pain across America’s college campuses than BDS.

“When people, especially people in the Jewish community, hear ‘BDS,’ they think about it as this monstrous, monolithic thing,” said Noah Whinston, a 20-year-old Jewish student at Northwestern University, outside Chicago, referring to the acronym for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel movement. “For every Jew, there’s something instilled within us where those three letters are really scary as soon as you put them in a line.”

Whinston is the only Jewish member of Northwestern’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter. Earlier this year, thanks in large part to SJP lobbying, his private Midwestern college became one of roughly 20 universities in the United States whose undergraduate student governments voted to demand their schools divest from companies profiting from Israel’s military occupation of Palestine. (Until now, SJP has focused primarily on the D in BDS.) Around 75 percent of these student divestment resolutions have passed within the last two years — many of them after being repeatedly voted down in prior years. 

Although to date, the administration of only one small liberal-arts college in Massachusetts has agreed to actually divest — Hampshire College, which also was the first U.S. school to divest during the campaign against South African apartheid — today’s university students have mobilized. No longer does the argument that pressuring Israel is less important than preserving campus unity stave off divestment resolutions like it used to.

[UPDATE 7/13/2015] Correction: Hampshire College's board of trustees clarifies that while the initial review of its investments in 2009 was set in motion by an SJP complaint, “no administrative or board level action took place in support of SJP.” The college's decision to divest from various companies that violated its policy on socially responsible investments was not based on their activity in Israel, according to the board.

Northwestern’s resolution passed on its first run last February.

“This isn’t about campus politics — this is about our survival,” a Mexican-American student from the Chicano Students Movement of Aztlan (MEChA) testified at the hearing. She likened her people’s historic oppression to that of the Palestinians. “You say we’re divisive. ‘Build bridges not walls.’ Why don’t you tell the Israeli government that?” the student said, raising her voice, empowered by the hum of hundreds of finger snaps — the campus equivalent of applause.

“The room had 400 or 500 people in it,” Whinston remembered. “It was packed. I think that was the most well-attended student government meeting in the history of the school.”

At the University of California, more than in any other school system, SJP-endorsed divestment resolutions have spread like wildfire. Elected student reps at six of the UC system’s 10 campuses — along with the greater UC Student Association — have voted that the UC should divest from Israel-invested companies such as Caterpillar and Hewlett-Packard. Last December, a UC student-worker union voted to support a full call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel — becoming the first major U.S. labor union to do so.

Students for Justice in Palestine 

This week, on July 9, the BDS movement marks its 10th year. But many of BDS’ opponents argue that its core narrative was born several years earlier, in 2001, at the United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. There, various European nongovernmental organizations defined Israel’s social and physical divisions as true apartheid — likening it to South Africa before a global BDS movement pressured it to desegregate.

“The blueprint was there; the South Africa model was there,” claimed Steinberg, head of NGO Monitor. “Omar Barghouti then jumped on the bandwagon, took what was there, claimed credit for it and built it into this website, which he calls a movement.”

Barghouti, 50, is the Palestinian academic widely considered the founding father of the BDS movement. He currently serves as director for the closest thing BDS has to a control room: the BDS National Committee, or BNC, headquartered in Ramallah. 

If Barghouti was not a household name in Israel before this spring’s rash of BDS wins, that has quickly changed. Israeli TV stations have been crediting him as the mastermind behind the FIFA debacle, Wind said. And Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most-read newspaper, recently dubbed him “Explosive Omar” in a front-page story. 

In a rare interview, Barghouti described to the Journal the hot July day 10 years ago when Palestinian organizations from all over the political spectrum came together in support of a new, nonviolent movement. “Within days” of issuing the call for BDS, he said, “171 organizations, parties and unions signed on, turning this into a sweeping manifestation of the Palestinian will to resist injustice and live in freedom and dignity.”


“Within days [of issuing the call for BDS] 171 organizations, parties and unions signed on, turning this into a sweeping manifestation of the Palestinian will to resist injustice and live in freedom and dignity.” — Omar Barghouti

July 9, 2005, also marked the one-year anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s ruling that Israel’s separation barrier defied international law. Barghouti called the decision — compounded by the world’s silence — “the last trigger for the BDS movement.”

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, a Northern California resident who’s been involved in the Palestinian rights struggle since the 1960s, sees the July 9 call as “key in bringing different activists around the world together.” It was a clear-cut campaign around which they could rally.

Indeed, by the time the call came from Ramallah, the groundwork for what would become one of BDS’ most effective battlegrounds had already been built in Berkeley by UC professor and radical leftie Hatem Bazian. Back in 2001, he had formed the first chapter of SJP. (To this day, many Israel advocates pass around an old 2004 video of Bazian calling for a U.S. intifada. “They’re going to say some Palestinians are being too radical,” he tells a crowd of supporters at UC Berkeley. “Well, you haven’t seen radicalism yet!”) 

In 2010, and again in 2013, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a pro-Israel group that seeks to call out anti-Semitism in all its forms, published a list of “The Top 10 Anti-Israel Groups in the U.S.” SJP was named in both reports.

The ADL claims SJP-backed divestment resolutions have created a campus atmosphere in which anti-Semitism can thrive. (Recently, at Stanford University and UC Davis, swastikas were spray-painted on a Jewish frat house.) It also condemns SJP’s cross-campus practice of tacking mock Palestinian eviction notices to students’ dorm rooms and has accused activists of singling out Jewish students in the process. 

“If the university and college environment can be viewed as the incubator for tomorrow’s leaders, SJP’s success at introducing anti-Israel ideologies to today’s college students is enormously significant,” the ADL said in its 2013 report.

SJP membership has continued to grow rapidly since then. Its leaders now estimate more than 150 SJP chapters are spread across the U.S. — and those chapters have entered into hundreds more collaborative unions with other campus groups that share their principles, many of them representing ethnic minorities. 

“Campus politics have been hijacked by a group of students who are intent to conquer,” Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, then the executive director of Hillel at UCLA, said in a controversial statement after the school’s divestment bill passed. “The coalition of Arab, Muslim, Latino, Asian and gay students — they’re all oppressed minorities.” (At Northwestern’s divestment vote later that month, a student representing the Chicano activist group MEChA quoted Seidler-Feller at the podium. Many in the crowd crossed their arms and shook their heads in disbelief.)

Various Israel advocates and Internet sleuths claimed in interviews with the Journal that SJP is running on significant outside capital. However, the Journal could not find any evidence of this.

SJP’s campus branches are largely autonomous from their parent group, SJP National, which exists mostly to plan SJP’s annual conference. Leaders from a handful of SJP’s approximately 150 campus chapters said they count on student government funds and independent fundraisers to stay active. UCLA’s SJP branch, for example, was allocated about $8,000 in student fees for the 2014-15 school year. And the SJP chapter at Northwestern raised an extra $4,000 toward its divestment campaign via the crowd-funding website Rally.org.

But there’s another group included in the ADL’s top-10 list that has experienced an even more meteoric rise than SJP, and the finances to support it: Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

Jewish Voice for Peace

In February, JVP leaders decided to endorse the full BDS call — boycott, divestment and sanctions against all companies and institutions on both sides of the Green Line. 

BNC, led by Barghouti, “has been incredibly patient with us,” JVP Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson said in an interview. In the past few years, she said, BNC leaders “were willing to work with us despite us not endorsing the full call.” 

In the past five years, JVP’s annual budget has catapulted from a few hundred thousand dollars to $2.5 million in 2015. Since this time last year, its roster has expanded from 40 to 60 chapters, its list of online supporters has jumped from 140,000 to 200,000 names, and its social-media following has tripled.

Vilkomerson points to Israel’s 2014 military operation in Gaza as the cause for most of this growth. “Every time there’s a conflict in Israel-Palestine,” she said, “a new group of Jewish people starts to question Israel.”

JVP does not release the names of its donors to the public for fear of harassment. However, Vilkomerson did reveal that the group counts around 9,000 donors, mostly individuals. “People were beside themselves this summer,” she said. “They would just write us checks because they didn’t know what else to do.”

Jacob Manheim, 22, is a recent UCLA graduate who helped found a JVP chapter at the school after a previous divestment resolution failed in early 2014. With JVP’s help, a similar resolution passed in a landslide 8-2-2 vote on its second try. 

“We lobbied student council members and held meetings discussing the myths and facts regarding divestment” in the months leading up to the decision, Manheim said. “Moreover, we were able to show our classmates the diversity of the Jewish community, and that being Jewish does not necessarily mean that you support state violence against Palestinians.”

Campus Maccabees

At a much-talked-about summit at the Las Vegas hotel of American-Jewish mogul Sheldon Adelson in the first week of June, Prime Minister Netanyahu pledged to allocate $50 million toward a new government PR campaign specifically targeting BDS. 

“Delegitimization of Israel must be fought, and you are on the front lines,” Netanyahu told representatives from the 50-plus organizations present at the summit. And the trio of wealthy men who had organized the event — Adelson, Haim Saban and Adam Milstein — called on philanthropists in attendance to match that sum with another $50 million in grants for those fighting BDS.

“You work together and we will raise you the money,” Milstein, an Israeli-born Los Angeles real-estate investor and a co-founder of the Israeli American Council, reportedly told pro-Israel activists at the summit. “You no longer have to worry about financing and fundraising. You just need to be united.”

The new anti-BDS campaign is being called the Campus Maccabees, a nod to the Jewish rebels of ancient Israel.

In an email interview with the Journal after his summit, Milstein said: “The Campus Maccabees will reverse the rising tide of anti-Semitism by bringing together the most effective ideas and organizations, along with the funding necessary to make them successful in winning this battle on campuses and across the country.”

In fact, the Maccabees’ strategy going into the 2015-16 school year isn’t a far cry from that of BDS campus activists interviewed by the Journal. Both said they were focusing on educating the largest possible number of fellow students and faculty members. 

“By creating a new hub for cooperation — which moves the fight against this growing anti-Semitic movement from defense to offense, from a reactive posture to a proactive posture — we can and will win this battle,” Milstein said. 

Many BDS activists see this new $100 million, counter-education campaign as a sign of their own growing success. “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,” said Vilkomerson, quoting Gandhi. “Now we’re in the ‘fight you’ phase. We weren’t there 10 years ago. We weren’t even there two years ago.”

Stubborn believers in the peace talks argue that with every BDS victory, symbolic or not, both the Israelis and the Palestinians retreat farther into their respective narratives of victimhood — causing an impasse in negotiations.

But Gideon Levy, one of the farthest-left columnists in Israel’s farthest-left daily, Haaretz, wrote that while BDS may be deepening Israel’s “sense of victimhood, isolationism and nationalism” in the short term, it could also “result in a major change in attitude” in the long run, if the economic pressure becomes too much to bear. 

Others are skeptical about the BDS movement’s underlying intentions. “In the early days, it was relatively easy to show” that BDSers were really calling for the destruction of Israel, said Jonathan Rynhold, an Israeli economics professor and diplomacy expert. “Because they just said it, pretty much. But what’s happened over time is they’ve become more sophisticated and learned to use the language of the liberal left … and blur the difference between ’48 and ’67 lines.” For example, as pro-Israel activists often point out, maps of the region in logos used by groups such as SJP and American Muslims for Palestine don’t leave room for Israel.

BDS co-founder and leader Barghouti rejects this accusation. “Taking any political stance outside our human-rights mandate would have divided us and stripped us of our strongest assets — the near Palestinian consensus behind the movement and the compelling moral quest for universal rights,” he said.

Right now, following Barghouti’s lead, SJP and JVP chapters are gearing up for another year of education campaigns on campus. They plan to set up mock apartheid walls and checkpoints, start new petitions, push more divestment bills, and host lectures and informational sessions. Once they gather enough support on the ground, student leaders said, they expect policymakers will be forced to take notice.

“We’ve been able to present to students in a very factual way about the occupation and our involvement in it,” said Safwan Ibrahim, a 24-year-old UCLA student and SJP board member. “UC funds are invested in these companies that are profiting from the occupation. It’s not so far removed anymore. People are seeing this as a very tangible, changeable issue. People can see it through their own identities.”

The Holocaust survivor who coached World Cup star Carli Lloyd


Soccer fans around the world watched in amazement Sunday night as the United States women’s soccer team netted five goals – four of them in the first 16 minutes – to defeat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women’s World Cup final.

Three of the first four goals were scored by midfielder Carli Lloyd, a proficient player who had been overshadowed by teammates Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach before her breakout performance throughout this summer’s World Cup in Canada.

Most Carli Lloyd fans probably don’t know that her soccer roots wind back to Delran, a small town in southern New Jersey – where her high school coach was a Holocaust survivor.

Before Sunday’s finale, the New York Times delved into the tragic story of Rudi Klobach, Lloyd’s coach from 1997-2000 at Delran High School. Klobach, who won 256 games as a girl’s soccer coach and was inducted into the South Jersey Soccer Hall of Fame in 2011. He lost a three-year battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, last January. ALS attacks motor neurons, cells that control the muscles.

Klobach was born in 1944 to Jewish parents in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, where his father rounded up dead bodies for the Nazis. He moved with his family to the U.S. when he was 4 years old.

“His wife said he had rarely spoken of his family’s time in the camp. Like many other people whose lives were scarred by the Holocaust, Klobach could be a very private man,” Juliet Macur wrote in the Times.

It’s worth reading Macur’s full story about Klobach — a coach who helped point Lloyd toward international success.

Blatter could still perform a U-turn and stand again


Sepp Blatter could still perform a U-turn on his promise to stand down as FIFA president, a former adviser said on Monday, while FIFA did not directly deny the possibility.

Klaus Stoehlker, who advised Blatter during the recent election campaign, told Sky News that Blatter could remain head of world soccer's governing body if a “convincing candidate” to replace him did not emerge.

FIFA said in a statement that Stoehlker, who was in a meeting when contacted by Reuters and unable to comment, was no longer working with Blatter.

“Klaus Stoehlker's mandate from the FIFA President ended on 31 May 2015. The FIFA President would like to point to his remarks from 2 June,” it said, referring to Blatter's announcement that he would call a new election in which he would not be a candidate.

English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke does not think Blatter will have a change of heart.

“I think it (a U-turn) is extremely unlikely. I think it would be very controversial,” Dyke told Reuters.

“There would be a rebellion amongst a lot of people (if he did).”

However, Blatter has changed his mind in the past. In 2011, he said his fourth mandate would be his last but he stood again this year.

Blatter was re-elected for a fifth term as FIFA president on May 29 when his opponent Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein withdrew after Blatter had won the first round of voting by 133 to 73.

Four days later, as corruption allegations continued to batter FIFA, Blatter said he would stand down and call a new election, due to be held between December and February.

The FBI is investigating bribery and corruption at FIFA, including scrutiny of how soccer's governing body awarded World Cup hosting rights to Russia and Qatar.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell noted on Monday that the investigation into FIFA is not shouldered solely by the United States and is instead shared by international law enforcement partners.

The U.S. Justice Department “has worked closely with the lead FIFA prosecutors to obtain evidence from numerous countries across the globe,” Caldwell said at the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners conference in Baltimore.

“Far from acting as the world's corruption police, the United States is part of a formidable and growing coalition of international enforcement partners who together combat corruption around the world.” The confusion surrounding FIFA's leadership took a new twist on Sunday when the Schweiz am Sonntag newspaper reported that Blatter, 79, may seek to stay on as president.

The report said Blatter had received messages of support from African and Asian football associations, who voted for him at the election and want him to reconsider his decision.

Blatter was honoured by the support and had not ruled out remaining in office, the newspaper said, citing an anonymous source close to him.

Africa's soccer confederation (CAF) said on Monday that it had not heard of any of its members asking Blatter to stay on.

“At CAF level we are not aware of any African countries who have written to ask Blatter to stay on,” Kalusha Bwalya, a CAF executive committee member and president of the Football Association of Zambia, told Reuters.

“We feel it is better to get on with our own work in the meantime and see what everyone has to say in the next months. Everybody is waiting for clarity.”

“At the moment there are a lot of rumours floating about and everyone is rushing to turn the smallest piece of information into a story.”

UEFA insiders told Reuters that European soccer's governing body was left perplexed by the reports that Blatter would stand again and that the plot would be too outrageous even for a Hollywood script.

Officially, European soccer's governing body did not want to comment but the German football association (DFB) called on Blatter, who is staying on until the election, to leave quickly.

“We only know the media reports which strengthen our clear position,” spokesman Ralf Koettker told reporters. “Blatter's announced resignation must be formally completed as soon as possible.”

Germany coach Joachim Loew said: “As far as I can speak as a coach, FIFA must have a new structure and there has to be a certain new start because all of this has damaged football, and that was dangerous. I think resigning from a resignation should normally not happen.”

However, Domenico Scala, the official overseeing the process of choosing a new president, said on Sunday that Blatter's departure was an “indispensable” part of planned reforms to soccer's governing body.

Blatter rocks world soccer by quitting FIFA amid scandal


Sepp Blatter rocked the world of soccer on Tuesday by unexpectedly quitting as FIFA president in the face of a corruption investigation that has plunged the game's governing body into the worst crisis in its history.

Blatter, 79, announced the decision at a hastily arranged news conference in Zurich, six days after the FBI raided a hotel in Zurich and arrested several FIFA officials and just four days after he was re-elected to a fifth term as president.

Blatter said an election to choose a new president for the deeply troubled organisation would be held as soon as possible. A FIFA official said that could happen any time from December this year to March of next year.

“FIFA needs profound restructuring,” said Blatter, a Swiss national who has been a dominating presence at FIFA for decades.

“I have thoroughly considered my presidency and thought about my presidency and the last 40 years of my life,” Blatter, speaking in French, told the news conference.

“I decided to stand again to be elected because I was convinced it was the best option for football.

“Although the members of FIFA gave me a new mandate, this mandate does not seem to be supported by everyone in the world.”

Blatter's decision was immediately welcomed by his most prominent critics.

European football federation chief Michel Platini, a French former international soccer star, said: “It was a difficult decision, a brave decision, and the right decision.”

Greg Dyke, chairman of the English Football Association, said it was “good news for world football.” He then asked: “Who got him? Who shot him? What happened between then (when he was elected) and now?”

“We haven't had a squeaky clean president for many, many years,” Dyke told Sky Sports.

FIFA, which Blatter had ruled since 1998, was left reeling this week by the announcement of a U.S. investigation into alleged widespread financial wrongdoing stretching back for more than two decades.

Swiss authorities also mounted their own criminal probe into the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.

The U.S. Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn had no immediate comment.

The office of the Swiss Attorney General, which is investigating alleged criminal mismanagement and money laundering at FIFA, said Blatter's resignation would have no effect on its proceedings. It said Blatter himself was not subject to investigation.

While Blatter was not mentioned in either the U.S. or Swiss investigations, there had been widespread calls for him to quit, mostly from Western nations. Some major sponsors also expressed misgivings about the impact of the scandal.

SCANDAL INTENSIFIES

The European Commission's spokeswoman for sport, Nathalie Vandystadt, said: “This is an important step but a lot of work remains. We now expect a long process of change that is needed to restore trust and set up a solid system of good governance at FIFA.”

Blatter had initially attempted to bat away the furore, relying on his extensive network of friends to hold on to power at FIFA.

Football associations in Africa and Asia had stood by him despite the scandal, saying they welcomed the FIFA funds he channelled to them for the development of the game in impoverished parts of the world.

The investigation however closed in on Blatter on Tuesday, when FIFA was forced to deny that his right-hand man, Secretary-General Jerome Valcke, was implicated in a $10 million payment that lies at the heart of the U.S. case.

But at the same time, a letter addressed to Valcke from the South African Football Association was published outlining the transaction.

Blatter became FIFA secretary general in 1981 and president 17 years later.

He survived a series of scandals including widespread accusations that Qatar bought the right to stage the 2022 World Cup in a country with little football history and where summer temperatures regularly top 40 degrees Celsius (104 F). Qatar has always denied any wrongdoing.

Despite calls for Blatter's resignation after what was described as the worst day in FIFA's history last Wednesday, when seven serving officials were arrested on bribery charges two days before the body's 2015 election, he told delegates then: “Football needs a strong and experienced leader. One that knows all the ins and outs and can work with our partners”.

Overcoming opposition from European soccer's governing body UEFA, which threatened at one point to boycott the Congress, he was elected for another four years. His fifth term lasted just four days.

Palestinians rip their soccer chief for stopping bid to oust Israel from FIFA


The head of the Palestine Football Association came under fire for withdrawing a request to suspend Israel from FIFA, the international soccer body.

Jibril Rajoub said prior to Friday’s proposed vote that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany convinced him to withdraw the request.

In place of the vote, the FIFA Congress called for the formation of a committee to investigate freedom of movement out of the West Bank for Palestinian soccer players. The committee also would examine alleged Israeli racism and the five Israeli soccer teams located in West Bank communities.

The Palestinian association said before the vote that it was clear that banning Israel from FIFA would not pass.

Hamas called the decision to halt the vote to expel Israel a missed opportunity and said it went against popular Palestinian opinion.

“After this retreat, how can the Palestinians trust the Palestinian Authority to take Israel to the International Criminal Court or to end security cooperation?” said a statement issued Friday night by Hamas.

Palestinians on social media also criticized Rajoub, while the Palestinian Liberation Organization called the withdrawal a violation of national principles, according to Haaretz.

Rajoub said the request was suspended, not withdrawn completely, and that the decision was supported by other Arab states.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the move to oust Israel from FIFA “provocative and unwarranted” following a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Netanyahu said he and Steinmeier discussed advancing confidence-building measures, including up to 800 trucks a day of construction and humanitarian assistance to Gaza, adding, “I regret that at the same time that we seek to do that, the Palestinian Authority seeks to kick Israel out of FIFA.”

On Friday, Sepp Blatter won his fifth term as FIFA president, defeating Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan, despite a bribery scandal involving the association. Blatter was not among the FIFA officials and executives of soccer federations indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Palestinians drop bid to suspend Israel from FIFA


The Palestinian soccer association withdrew its bid to have members of the FIFA world soccer body vote on whether to suspend Israel.

The head of the Palestine Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, on Friday said in announcing the move: “I thank those who convinced me to drop the suspension [of Israel]. The German president [Angela Merkel] spoke to me … this affected me,” The Guardian reported in ints online edition.

Rajoub spoke in Zurich, Switzerland, where delegates from FIFA’s 209 member states and federations convened for the body’s 65th congress, amid allegations that nine of its senior members were involved in a corruption and bribes scandal. Against this backdrop, reporters from around the world closely watched as the organization’s embattled president, Sepp Blatter, urged delegates to reelect him for a fifth term despite the corruption allegations.

Still, the Palestinian delegation’s threat to bring Israel’s proposed suspension to a vote also received extensive media coverage. The Palestinian Authority said it was pursuing this issue because Israel was limiting its players’ travel without justification and discriminating against them. Israel denied this, but agreed to introduce some concessions on freedom of travel.

However, no compromise was found on the Palestinians delegation’s demand that Israel’s soccer association suspend five teams from West Bank settlements.

Blatter and other soccer bosses opposed the Palestinian vote, calling it a politicization of the athletic field.

Ofer Eini, who heads the Israeli soccer association, proposed setting up a joint committee to “work out all the aspects” of the issues concerned after Rajoub’s announcement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Eini for his efforts to prevent suspension. “Our international effort has proven itself and led to the failure of the Palestinian Authority attempt to oust us from FIFA,” Netayahu wrote in a statement.

Before Rajoub’s announcement, a pro-Palestinian demonstrator was forcibly removed from the FIFA congress after she interrupted Blatter’s address by waving a Palestinian flag while chanting slogans. Blatter asked security to remove her, the Dutch De Telegraaf daily reported. Shortly thereafter, the hotel hosting the congress was partially evacuated due to a bomb threat, which turned out to be false. The people who reported the threat to police did not say whether it was connected to the scheduled vote on Israel.

“I look forward to the day in which Palestinians, like many others, are enjoying the benefits of the game. Let us look forward and be optimistic,” Rajoub also said. He added he has received threats over his decision to drop the suspension bid. “I might be dead in a year,” Rajoub said.

Blatter reportedly offered to bring the matter of the five settlement teams up to a vote at the United Nations, but Israel declined, citing a record of anti-Israel resolutions passed by the United Nations through what Israel has called “automatic majorities” against it.

Blatter, who has been heavily criticized for not doing enough to combat corruption in FIFA, is being challenged by Jordanian Prince Ali bin Al Hussein for the presidency of FIFA, the most powerful job in soccer.

World soccer rocked as top FIFA officials held in U.S., Swiss graft cases


Seven of the most powerful figures in global soccer faced extradition to the United States on corruption charges after their arrest on Wednesday in Switzerland, where authorities also announced a criminal investigation into the awarding of the next two World Cups.

The world's most popular sport was plunged into turmoil after U.S. and Swiss authorities announced separate inquiries into the activities of the game's powerful governing body, FIFA.

U.S. authorities said nine soccer officials and five sports media and promotions executives faced corruption charges involving more than $150 million in bribes. In pursuit of the U.S. case, Swiss police arrested seven FIFA officials who are now awaiting extradition to the United States.

U.S. officials gave details of a case in which they said they exposed complex money laundering schemes, found millions of dollars in untaxed incomes and tens of millions in offshore accounts held by FIFA officials.

At a New York press conference, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said authorities were seeking the arrest of other people in connection with the case.

One of those indicted, former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner of Trinidad, solicited $10 million in bribes from the South African government to host the 2010 World Cup, the Justice Department said. Warner issued a statement saying he is innocent of any charges.

Those arrested did not include Sepp Blatter, the Swiss head of FIFA, but included several just below him in the hierarchy of sport's wealthiest body. Lynch said the U.S. was not charging Blatter at this time.

Of the 14 indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice, seven FIFA officials, including Vice-President Jeffrey Webb, were being held in Zurich. Four people and two corporate defendants had already pleaded guilty to various charges, the department said.

The Miami, Florida, headquarters of CONCACAF – the soccer federation that governs North America, Central America and the Caribbean – were being searched on Wednesday, the DoJ said.

“As charged in the indictment, the defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world,” said FBI Director James Comey. “Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks, and bribes became a way of doing business at FIFA.”

The FIFA officials appeared to have walked into a trap set by U.S. and Swiss authorities. The arrests were made at dawn at a plush Zurich hotel, the Baur au Lac, where FIFA officials are staying before a vote this week that is expected to anoint Blatter for a fifth term in office. Suites at the hotel cost up to $4,000 a night.

“DIFFICULT MOMENT”

FIFA called the arrests a “difficult moment” but said Blatter would seek another term as FIFA head as planned and the upcoming World Cups would go ahead as intended.

Separate from the U.S. investigation, Swiss prosecutors said they had opened their own criminal proceedings against unidentified people on suspicion of mismanagement and money laundering related to the awarding of rights to host the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 event in Qatar.

Data and documents were seized from computers at FIFA's Zurich headquarters, the Swiss prosecutors said.

Officials said that following the arrests, accounts at several banks in Switzerland had been blocked.

The U.S. Department of Justice named those arrested in its case as: Webb, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, another FIFA Vice-President, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel and José Maria Marin.

An authoritative source said their extradition could take years if it was contested.

The DoJ said the defendants included U.S. and South American sports marketing executives alleged to have paid and agreed to pay “well over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments”.

“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” Lynch said in a statement.

“It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks,” she said.

The guilty pleas were those of Charles Blazer, a former U.S. representative on FIFA's executive committee, and José Hawilla, owner of the Traffic Group, a sports marketing firm, and two of his companies.

BILLIONS OF DOLLARS

The international governing body of football collects billions of dollars in revenue, mostly from sponsorship and television rights for World Cups.

It has been dogged by reports of corruption which it says it investigates itself, but until now it has escaped major criminal cases in any country.

In particular, the decision to award the World Cup to Qatar, a tiny desert country with no domestic tradition of soccer, was heavily criticised by soccer officials in Western countries. FIFA was forced to acknowledge that it is too hot to play soccer there in the summer when the tournament is traditionally held, forcing schedules around the globe to be rewritten to move the event.

Qatar's stock market fell sharply as news of the Swiss investigation emerged. A Russian official said his country would still host the 2018 World Cup.

Three years ago FIFA hired a former U.S. prosecutor to examine allegations of bribery over the awarding of the World Cups to Qatar and Russia. However, last year it refused to publish his report, releasing only a summary in which it said there were no major irregularities. The investigator quit, saying his report had been mischaracterised.

Most of the arrested officials are in Switzerland for the FIFA Congress, where Blatter faces a challenge from Jordan's Prince Ali bin Al Hussein in the election on Friday to lead the organisation. Other potential challengers to Blatter have all dropped out the race.

Prince Ali, who has promised to clean up FIFA if elected to the top job, said it was “a sad day for football” and called for leadership in the world body that could restore the confidence of hundreds of millions of fans around the world.

English Football Association Chairman Greg Dyke said Wednesday's developments were “very serious for FIFA and its current leadership”. England had nominated Prince Ali as a candidate to succeed Blatter and would be backing him if the FIFA leadership vote went ahead.

BROAD POWERS

U.S. law gives its courts broad powers to investigate crimes committed by foreigners on foreign soil if money passes through U.S. banks or other activity takes place there.

Damian Collins, a British member of parliament who founded the reform group New FIFA Now, said the arrests could have a massive impact on the governing body.

“The chickens are finally coming home to roost and this sounds like a hugely significant development for FIFA,” he told Reuters.

“It proves that Sepp Blatter's promises over the last few years to look into corruption at FIFA have not materialised and because he has totally failed to do this, it has been left to an outside law enforcement agency to do the job and take action.”

The arrests could also have implications for sponsorship.

German sportswear company Adidas, long associated with FIFA, said the soccer body should do more to establish transparent compliance standards. 

How the FIFA corruption scandal could affect Israel


Israelis were expecting some big news to come out of the annual FIFA Congress this week.

But they probably weren’t expecting this.

In a bombshell operation, a Swiss law enforcement team showed up at the Zurich hotel hosting the annual gathering of the international soccer organization — and arrested nine senior officials.

The arrests come after decades of corruption allegations aimed at FIFA. (If you’re unfamiliar, comedian John Oliver’s got you covered.) The arrested officials face charges of taking money in exchange for World Cup hosting bids, as well taking bribes in exchange for media and marketing rights for major international tournaments.

The allegations are damning, but frankly, they couldn’t have come at a better time for Israel. Until Wednesday, much of the coverage of the FIFA Congress surrounded whether delegates would vote tosuspend Israel from world soccer. The Palestinian Football Association is introducing the motion to suspend Israel, accusing it of unjustly restricting Palestinian soccer players’ freedom of movement and claiming that Israel’s West Bank settlement teams violate FIFA rules. Israeli officials have called the effort blatantly political and said that the Palestinians’ complaints all concern Israel’s security forces — not Israel’s soccer teams.

For Israel to be suspended, three quarters of delegates would need to approve the motion. If that were a long shot before, it’s even more unlikely now.

Suspending the Jewish state from international play would have rocked world soccer’s boat, inviting allegations of anti-Semitism and double standards. Israel, to say the least, likely would not have gone quietly into the night.

Now, with FIFA’s boat already rocking, member states will probably be loath to pile one controversy on another. FIFA President Sepp Blatter, already opposed to Israel’s suspension (he met last week with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) is probably looking to avoid two crises on his hands at once.

Israel can even take comfort in historical precedent. When Netanyahu went to the White House in January 1998 to meet with President Clinton, he reportedly expected a tense meeting about the peace process. But the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke that day, leaving the president preoccupied.

With world soccer preoccupied and the eyes of the world elsewhere, this could be FIFA and Israel’s Monica moment.

Could Israel really be barred from world soccer?


Israel’s diplomatic battles have spread to the soccer field.

On May 29, FIFA, the body that governs world soccer, will vote on whether to suspend Israel from international play. FIFA’s 209-member countries will vote on a motion tabled by the Palestinian Football Association, which is calling for the suspension on claims that Israel is hindering Palestinian soccer and breaking international law.

Here’s what the Palestinians want, how Israel is fighting back, and how this could all shake out.

Palestinians want freedom of movement for soccer players, and to shut down settlement teams

The Palestinian Football Association, or PFA, says Israel is blocking its players from getting to games. Israeli security forces have blocked players and coaches from traveling to international matches, and haven’t allowed players to go between the West Bank and Gaza. Susan Shalabi, director of the PFA’s international department, told JTA that six top players were prevented from traveling to a match in 2010.

Israel, says Shalabi, is also preventing the Palestinian Authority from building soccer facilities. Since 2009, Shalabi says, Israel has prevented construction materials for a soccer field from entering the Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya.

“The decisions to let someone in or out were arbitrary,” Shalabi told JTA Tuesday. “There were always security reasons for the Israeli occupation to deny someone from coming.”

The PFA also claims that Israeli settlements’ soccer teams shouldn’t be allowed to play in Israel’s league, saying they’re located on Palestinian territory. Five such teams compete: Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, the Jordan Valley and Givat Ze’ev.

If the Palestinian motion passes, Israel would be barred from international soccer

When the Palestinian motion comes up for a FIFA vote, it will need a three-quarters majority to pass. And if it does, Israel’s individual soccer teams and its national team will be barred from playing official matches with teams from other countries.

Soccer is Israel’s most popular sport, and though Israel qualified for a World Cup tournament only once, in 1970, Israeli soccer teams frequently travel abroad for matches. Coming amid growing economic, academic and cultural boycott efforts against Israel, expulsion from international competition in the world’s most popular sport would be a sharp blow everyday Israelis.

Israel is pushing back by lobbying foreign governments and citing security threats

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has been lobbying governments to oppose the motion on the grounds that it’s a political dispute unrelated to soccer.

Shlomi Barzel, the Israeli Soccer Association’s head of communications, told JTA that Israel sees the initiative as a way for Jibril Rajoub, a senior PA official and head of the PFA, to hurt Israel’s international standing. “Even the biggest Israel-hater in the world understands this has a political basis,” Barzel told JTA. “It’s not relevant.”

Barzel said the Palestinians’ complaints all concerned Israel’s security forces, not its soccer teams. He claimed that only one percent of all Palestinian soccer players are denied travel. When Israel denies exit, he said, it’s because the player in question is known to present a security risk.

Regarding settlement teams, Barzel said that as long as Israel considers the settlements its sovereign territory, the teams will be allowed to play in Israeli leagues.

In 2013, Netanyahu met with FIFA President Sepp Blatter to show him photographic evidence that, according to Israel, shows that Palestinian terror groups used soccer fields to launch rockets at Israel.

This isn’t the first time the two sides have clashed over soccer

Palestinian sports officials have long been railing against Israeli restrictions on their teams. In 2012, the head of the Palestinian Olympic delegation voiced similar complaints to JTA about freedom of movement. Two years ago, Blatter convened a meeting between the heads of the Israeli and Palestinian Soccer Associations, and created a task force to resolve the issue.

Those talks led to a 2013 FIFA proposal, mandating the PFA notify Palestinian and Israeli authorities of player movement 35 days in advance of travel, and then be given two more weeks to change their player list. But the proposal has failed to resolve the dispute.

In 2014, Rajoub threatened to put forth a motion to suspend Israel at that year’s FIFA Congress in Sao Paolo. But he backed off after FIFA resolved to continue working toward a resolution, appointing Cypriot soccer chief Costakis Koutsokoumnis to oversee the issue.

Shalabi said the Palestinians would withdraw the motion only if Israel meets the PFA’s demands. She said the Israel Football Association should criticize Israeli security restrictions when they interfere with Palestinian soccer.

Barzel supported Israel’s security policy, but said Israel wants to continue negotiating within FIFA’s framework. He added that Israel has repeatedly proposed a match between the Israeli and Palestinian national teams, because Israel believes “soccer can connect people.”

FIFA President Sepp Blatter wants to strike a deal to prevent the vote.

Blatter will visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority Wednesday and Thursday, meeting with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas separately in hopes of finding a resolution.

Blatter has staked out a middle ground on the issue. He opposes Israel’s suspension and, like Israel, he supports continuing negotiations. But he also wrote in the May 15 issue of the FIFA Weekly magazine that Israel must make concessions to the Palestinians.

“A solution is only a realistic proposition when those who are privileged are prepared to concede something and contribute to equality,” he wrote. “The onus in this respect is on Israel, with its outstanding infrastructure, fully functioning professional football league and economic context.”

Barzel thinks Blatter’s efforts will succeed. But Shalabi said she was “pessimistic.”

Blatter fears Israel vote could set dangerous precedent


FIFA president Sepp Blatter is worried that a dangerous precedent will be set if the Palestinian Authority goes ahead and asks for a vote to suspend Israel at the annual Congress of soccer's governing body on May 29.

Blatter, who is standing for re-election at the Congress, said the dispute was “the biggest challenge” facing him as he comes to the end of his current mandate, and added that Israel had not broken any FIFA statutes.

The Palestine Football Association (PFA) has accused Israel of hampering its activities and restricting the movement of players between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Israel cites security concerns for the restrictions it imposes and the Israeli FA has argued that it has no control over security forces.

FIFA has been trying to broker a settlement for two years and Blatter confirmed that he would travel to the region again next week and meet Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Blatter said that if the Palestinian Authority proposal was approved, other nations could use football to air political grievances.

“This could open the doors, where would we go? We want to be in sport and not in politics, we could set a very dangerous precedent,” he told reporters at FIFA headquarters.

“It's like an orchestra… where, at the general assembly, you can come and say they don't like the drummer.”

But Blatter said he was optimistic of finding a last-ditch compromise.

“I'm hopeful and positive that, at the end of the day, there might be a solution before the Congress,” he said.

“I want to try to find a solution to avoid us going to a vote in a FIFA Congress and speak about the dismissal or suspension of a federation, this is not the sporting spirit.”

He added: “Palestine is expecting from the government of Israel a gesture, especially when it comes to the control of the circulation of persons in the checkpoints and specifically when foreign teams come in.”

Blatter said another Palestinian Authority grievance was the charge of tax on the importation of sporting equipment.

The Palestinian Authority would need three quarters of the votes from among FIFA's 209 national associations for its motion to pass. A suspension would mean that Israel, which is affiliated to UEFA, could no longer compete in the Euro 2016 qualifiers and its clubs would be barred from European competition.

“I wouldn't like to go into a vote to say that one association shall be suspended, if there is nothing against the statutes of FIFA and we have to make clear there is nothing (by Israel) against the statutes of FIFA.”

“When FIFA stops football, then everyone is unhappy. To suspend a federation, you must make an investigation, you cannot just say I want to.

“This is my number one challenge, actually, from now until the election. It's a very delicate problem.”

Vatican, FIFA, EU put Israel in center of diplomatic storm


This story originally appeared on The Media Line.

The Palestinian decision to internationalize their conflict with Israel seems to be paying off as Israel is coming under diplomatic pressure on several fronts at the same time. The Vatican decision to recognize “Palestine” as a state, an expected French-sponsored resolution to the United Nations Security Council, and the possible expulsion of Israel from FIFA, the international soccer federation, are creating the sense that Israel is losing the diplomatic battle.

“There is a sense of erosion,” a senior Israeli official told The Media Line on condition of anonymity. “We see more and more countries and organizations buying into the unilateral logic of the Palestinians.”

But he warned, ultimately it will not be possible to create a Palestinian state without Israeli approval.

“No matter how much the Palestinians obtain in declarations and international organizations it can’t replace negotiations,” he said. “Palestinians have given up on negotiations and we believe it’s a huge mistake.”

The latest decision by the Vatican to sign a treaty with the state of “Palestine”, concerning the Holy See’s activities in the Palestinian Authority, comes before a weekend meeting between the Pope and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. It is an important symbolic move by the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. At the UN, the Vatican and Palestine are both considered non-member observer states. In a statement, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi welcomed the decision.

“The significance of this decision goes beyond the political and legal into the symbolic and moral domains and sends a message to all people of conscience that the Palestinian people deserve the right to self-determination, formal recognition, freedom, and statehood,” she said in a statement.

Some Israeli analysts said the move by the Vatican, while purely symbolic, was nevertheless important.

“It’s a big deal because the Pope is the spiritual leader of hundreds of millions of Christians,” Eytan Gilboa of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University told The Media Line. “Christians are being murdered all over the Middle East but what is important for him is the particular recognition of Palestine.”

But others said that Israel should be more concerned about its relationship with the US, then with the Vatican.

“This has basically been Vatican policy all along,” Amiel Ungar, an Israeli commentator. “The big enchilada is how much the Obama administration is behind the European moves.”

France is expected to soon present a new resolution to the UN Security Council to recognize Palestine. In the past, the US has vetoed all such resolutions, but after the election of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said it will “reassess” that decision.

The guidelines of Netanyahu’s new government does not include any mention of a Palestinian state, a change from the previous government. A group of former European leaders and diplomats has called for more pressure on Israel, and charges that EU political and financial aid has achieved nothing but the “preservation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and imprisonment of Gaza”.

At the same time, the Palestinians have been campaigning in FIFA, the international football federation, to suspend Israel’s membership or to level sanctions on Israel for limiting the free movement of Palestinian soccer players and refusing them permission to travel abroad. The 200 national leagues in FIFA are expected to vote on the resolution in the coming weeks.

All of this is expected to lead to growing international pressure on Israel, but it could also end up backfiring and encouraging Palestinians to stay away from the negotiating table.

“Israel has only three cards it can use with the Palestinians – giving up territory, international recognition, and the release of Palestinian prisoners,” Eytan Gilboa said. “But if they get the recognition without any negotiations, what motivation do they have to negotiate with Israel?”

Blatter hopes to persuade Palestine FA to drop Israel complaint


FIFA president Sepp Blatter says he will attempt to persuade the Palestine Football Association to withdraw a bid to get Israel suspended from world football's governing body.

Blatter said he would meet with the association's president Jibril Rajoub in Cairo on Tuesday in an effort to convince him not to place a resolution on a possible Israeli suspension on the agenda for the FIFA Congress in Zurich next month.

“I will try to convince him that such a situation should not occur at FIFA,” Blatter told reporters after attending Tuesday's Confederation of African Football (CAF) Congress.

“A suspension of any member affects badly the whole organisation,” he added.

Palestine accuses Israel of continuing to hamper its football activities, frustrated at restrictions they say Israel imposes on the movement of their athletes between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The Palestinian Football Association also cited curbs Israel places on the import into Palestinian territories of sports equipment and on visits by foreign teams and individuals.

Blatter said he had been mandated to intervene in the dispute by FIFA's executive committee and two years ago established a task force which included himself, the Israeli and Palestinian soccer chiefs and the heads of the European and Asian soccer confederations to examine the Palestinian complaints and to try to resolve them.

Last year he persuaded Rajoub to drop a similar plan for the FIFA Congress in Sao Paulo, ahead of the World Cup in Brazil.

Last month, however, Rajoub said he had lost patience, and called on FIFA to show Israel “the red card.”

Israel cites security concerns for restrictions it imposes in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority exercises limited self rule, and along the border with the Hamas Islamist-run Gaza Strip.

It says it has eased travel for Palestinian athletes between the two territories, which requires passage via Israel.

In December, Rajoub called on FIFA to sanction Israel after Israeli troops entered the offices of the Palestine Football Association.

An army spokesman said at the time soldiers were seeking a wanted individual and were not targeting the premises because of its links to soccer.

The Palestinian draft resolution calls for Israel's suspension because its actions “inhibit our ability to develop the game”.

It also complains about racist behaviour towards Arab players by some Israeli fans.

The Palestinian Football Association said Israel was violating international law by including five clubs from Jewish settlements in the West Bank in their domestic league.

Blatter sad after Israeli soldiers enter Palestine Football Association headquarters


The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) reacted angrily on Tuesday and FIFA president Sepp Blatter said he was saddened after Israeli soldiers entered the headquarters of the Palestine Football Association (PFA).

“FIFA President Blatter was very sad to learn about an incident involving Israeli army force that happened yesterday at the headquarters of the PFA,” said FIFA in a statement.

“FIFA is committed to continuing its efforts to facilitate the relationship between the PFA and the Israel FA.”

The AFC said in a statement that its president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa “has denounced the Israeli army's search of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) headquarters in Jerusalem on Monday, describing it as intolerable and unacceptable.

“The AFC President stated that the military breaking into the PFA headquarters is a dangerous precedent that requires the international sporting family to stand together and support the PFA in standing up to the systematic violations of the Israeli authorities.

“Shaikh Salman affirmed that the AFC will start to coordinate with FIFA to study ways and mechanisms to put an end to the suffering of Palestinian football and send a tough message to the Israeli authorities to stop its attacks on various parts of the Palestinian footballing system.”

An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed that soldiers had entered the premises because a number of people stopped for routine questioning outside the offices said their identification documents were in the building and the soldiers went in to get them.

“Soldiers went into the offices in order to gather the identification documents only, their presence was not aimed against the Palestine FA in any way,” the spokeswoman said.

FIFA set up a task force last year to try and improve relations between the PFA and the Israeli Football Association.

Soccer's governing body has called on the Israeli government to ease restrictions on the movement of Palestinian footballers and officials.

Palestine joined FIFA in 1998 and have qualified for the Asian Cup, which will be held in Australia in January, for the first time. Israel is a member of the European confederation UEFA.

FIFA said the Israeli FA and the PFA would meet again in December.

Palestinian Authority FA says official’s Brazil trip blocked by Israel


Israel has prevented a senior Palestinian soccer delegate from traveling to this month's World Cup in Brazil, his federation said on Sunday.

The Palestine FA (PFA) has been lobbying world governing body FIFA to impose sanctions against Israel over restrictions on the movement of players from the blockaded Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank.

PFA president Jibril Rajoub told Reuters last month that the relationship between the two Middle East neighbours had deteriorated after the recent arrest of a Palestine footballer and the shooting of two other players.

On Sunday the PFA, in what it described as the third such case, said its deputy general-secretary Mohammad Ammassi was denied permission by Israel to travel from Gaza to the West Bank, from where he would cross to Jordan and on to Brazil.

“This is not the first time Mr Amassi has been denied a travel permit,” the PFA said in a statement.

“Israeli authorities have nothing against him, which clearly makes this rejection a temperamental and arbitrary measure that does not help the efforts to find a solution to the situation of Palestinian football.”

Israeli officials were checking the details of the case and had yet to comment.

Gaza is under the control of armed Hamas Islamists who advocate Israel's destruction and have often clashed with it.

The U.S.-backed rival Palestinian administration in the West Bank signed a unity deal with Hamas in April, prompting Israel to call off peace negotiations with it.

Rajoub said in May that FIFA had established a task force that included Palestinian and Israeli delegates but this had failed to improve the main issues of freedom of movement and access for Palestinian athletes.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Ken Ferris

World Jewish Congress asks FIFA to remember AMIA Jewish center victims at World Cup


The World Jewish Congress called on the FIFA world soccer association to hold a tribute to the victims of the AMIA Jewish center terrorist attack before a match between Argentina and Iran at the World Cup in Brazil.

A letter sent to FIFA President Joseph Blatter calls for a moment of silence for the 85 victims of the 1994 attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association .

Six Iranians are wanted by Interpol in connection with the bombing, including Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi. Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman also has presented evidence that Iran has infiltrated several South American countries through the installation of intelligence cells.

Brazilian Jack Terpins, president of the Latin American branch of WJC – the Latin American Jewish Congress, also pointed out in the letter obtained by JTA, set to be delivered on Friday, that this year is the twentieth anniversary of the AMIA tragedy. The letter also is signed by the congress’ Vice President Saul Gilvich of Uruguay.

The Latin American Jewish Congress “sees a unique opportunity for the sport to promote peace, dialogue and respect among peoples and nations. We believe in the enormous social and cultural influence of the FIFA World Cup around the world and more specifically in Latin America, and therefore we suggest that FIFA promote, at the start of this match, a moment’s silence in memory of the victims of this attack.”

The match between Iran and Argentina is scheduled for June 21.

The letter to the  FIFA president also says that: “Many of the spectators and players of the matches are not old enough to be aware of the atrocity of this attack. We believe that it is for the youth and the sport to demonstrate that everyone should be against terrorism. We are sure that such an act of solidarity with the victims of terror will encourage the population of the two countries, as well as the entire world’s population, to see in football and the World Cup a true field of respect, tolerance and dialogue against terrorism and racism.”

There is also an initiative on Facebook by Brazilian youth to hold a moment silence for AMIA victims before the start of the match.

“I will travel from Argentina to Brazil to see only one match, the match against Iran,” Fabio Kornblau, a former member of the AMIA board in charge of the youth department. “Of course I am in favor of one moment of silence. I also want to bring to this match an Israeli flag, to spread a stronger message in favor of the Jewish people, but I’m not sure, for security reasons,” he added.

Netanyahu shows soccer chief photos of rocket launchers at Gaza stadium [VIDEO]


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed the president of the international soccer federation proof that Palestinian soccer fields are being used to launch rockets at Israel.

Netanyahu met Tuesday with FIFA President Joseph Blatter a day after Blatter visited sites in the West Bank, including the opening of the new offices of the Palestine Football Association near Ramallah.

Netanyahu showed Blatter aerial photographs from Nov. 16, 2012 that reveal long-range Fajr-5 missile launch sites in the Gaza soccer stadium. Netanyahu also showed Blatter a video from March 10, 2012 of a match between the Israeli soccer teams of Beersheva and Um Al-Fahm being halted due to rocket fire at the stadium.

“This is a double war crime,” Netanyahu said. “You’re firing on civilians and you’re hiding behind civilians.”

The Israeli leader also referred to recent media interviews with Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub in which Rajoub said that if the Palestinians had an atomic bomb, they would have already used it on Israel and that Israel is the enemy of the Palestinian people.

During his West Bank visit, Blatter said he would speak to Israeli political leaders about easing travel restrictions on Palestinian players between the West Bank and Gaza.

“I will go to defend not only the Palestine Football Association but I will defend the basic principles of FIFA, (which are) to connect people and not to separate people,” Blatter said.

He added that the principles are “to recognize each other through football and to live not only in peace but in harmony.”

Rajoub said at his meeting with Blatter that if the issue of travel of Palestinian players  is not resolved satisfactorily, he will ask the FIFA Congress to expel Israel.

FIFA to help solve Palestinian sports dispute with Israel


FIFA president Sepp Blatter promised Palestinians on Wednesday that soccer's world governing body would help put an end to the long-running problems with Israel that severely restrict sport in the territories.

Blatter, who went to the region two years ago to try to help improve the relationship between the Palestinians and Israel, was applauded by delegates at a conference of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in Mauritius before FIFA's Congress starting on Thursday.

Blatter told AFC delegates he was aware of what he called “this touchy problem”, adding: “I can confirm I will help, FIFA will help. It's a problem of football. We will help you and this will be done. It's not a promise it's a will – and where there's a will there's way.”

The tensions between the neighbours have been exacerbated as the start of UEFA's European Under-21 Championship, being staged in four Israeli cities next month, approaches.

Last week UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said after its Congress in London that European soccer's governing body was within its rights to award the tournament to Israel and would not consider moving it.

But Jibril Rajoub, president of the West Bank FA and West Bank Olympic Committee, said the situation had worsened since Blatter and International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Jacques Rogge visited the region on separate occasions in 2011 and 2010.

At Rajoub's request there will be an open debate on the situation at the FIFA Congress on Friday.

ANGRY PALESTINIANS

Palestinians are angry that Israel's security forces, who control movement between Gaza and the West Bank, frequently prevent athletes from travelling freely between the two areas.

The situation is not restricted to Palestinians.

As a full member of FIFA and the AFC, the West Bank FA has started to hold more regional tournaments but the Israelis are stopping athletes from third countries entering the West Bank.

Recently two teenagers from Myanmar were stuck in Jordan for a week awaiting clearance so they could play in an Under-17 tournament before eventually been granted access to the Palestinian territories.

After Wednesday's meeting, Rajoub told Reuters: “It's crazy what the Israelis are doing. They should be asked either to respect and accept the statutes or pay the price. I am talking about free access and free movement for both athletes and sports instructors and experts from abroad.

“We just want to enjoy sport like the rest of the associations.”

Asked whether IOC and FIFA intervention had helped, he said: “No. The situation is deteriorating. They have to recognise reality on the ground and West Bank is a member of both FIFA and the IOC and accepts all of the standards and statutes of FIFA.”

He also objected to Israel hosting next month's Under-21 finals saying: “They should not be given this gift as long as they are not giving Palestinians the right to enjoy the same things as them.”

Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Ken Ferris

FIFA says non-Israeli can play for Israel


FIFA has given a Druze Arab from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights permission to play for Israel even though he is not a citizen of the country, the Israel FA said.

Maccabi Haifa’s Weaam Amasha is the leading Israeli league scorer this season with 12 goals from 13 matches and he has notched six in European club competition but he was unable to play for Israel because he does not own a passport.

He was born in the Golan Heights territory which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 war and annexed in 1981 in a move that has not been recognised internationally.

Golan Druze are entitled to Israeli citizenship since the annexation, but most of them, including Amasha, have not taken up the offer, citing historic links to Syria. Amasha goes overseas with Maccabi Haifa on an Israeli-issued travel document which is not a full passport.

“FIFA have decided to take the special case into consideration and will allow (Amasha) to play for the national team without a passport,” an Israeli FA statement said.

Amasha told reporters on Thursday that he was pleased a solution had been found.

“I have been waiting for this news for a long time and like any player, I want to improve and play at the highest level. Now I must wait to be called up,” Amasha said.

Amasha will have to wait to see if he is called up as no national squad announcement are imminent before Israel name a coach for their World Cup qualifying campaign starting next year.

The contract of current coach Luis Fernandez ends in June and is not expected to be renewed.

Writing by Ori Lewis, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Ed Osmond