Demonstration by Polish soccer fans features burning Jews in effigy


Several dozen soccer fans in Poland hung a banner containing anti-Semitic language at a train station in Lodz at a demonstration that featured the burning of Jews in effigy.

Approximately 50 men were photographed on a bridge at the Lodz Kaliska station on Aug. 26 with a banner reading “19.08, today the Jews got a name. Let them burn,” followed by an obscenity, the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper reported.

The message referenced to the ŁKS Łódź team, which was founded in 1908 and many Poles associate with Jews because of the rich Jewish history of Lodz. The city in central Poland had a large Jewish population before the Holocaust, partly because it was a capital of the local textile industry.

The fans, some wearing balaclavas, set fire to at least three puppets hanging from the bridge and are understood to symbolize burning Jews.

Police are looking for the demonstrators, who are suspected of incitement to racial hatred and intimidation, the daily reported.

Jewish coach leads Colombia soccer team to 3rd place in Copa tournament


Colombia’s national soccer team finished third in the prestigious Copa America Centenario tournament led by its Jewish coach, Jose Pekerman.

Colombia defeated the United States, 1-0, on Saturday in the bronze medal match at University of Phoenix Stadium. Sixteen countries competed in the centennial edition of the tournament, which ended Sunday with Chile beating Argentina in the title match.

Pekerman took over as Colombia’s coach in January 2012 and “has overseen a renaissance” with the Colombian national team, according to the Copa America websiteHe is a former midfielder with the Argentine national team.

He was born in Villa Dominguez in the Argentine countryside, one of the main centers of Jewish immigration to Argentina. His grandparents came from Ukraine. Pekerman lived in the Buenos Aires Jewish neighborhood of Villa Crespo.

In the finals, played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Chile defeated Argentina on penalty kicks, 4-2, after the game ended in a scoreless tie. Argentine star Lionel Messi missed his penalty shot, later asserting that he will no longer play for his national team.

In April, Messi was ripped as “Jewish” and “Zionist” after donating cleats to an Egyptian charity. Messi, a Catholic, visited the Western Wall on a peace tour in August 2013 with the Barcelona club. One year later, Messi supported a soccer match organized by Pope Francis to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but he did not play in the match due an injury.

The Copa tournament celebrated 100 years as the oldest national team cup in the world. Some 1.5 million fans attended the 32 games held in 10 venues across the United States, for an average of more than 46,000 fans per game, making it the most attended Copa America in the tournament’s history.

Along with record-setting attendance, more than 100 million viewers watched the games on the Univision and FOX networks, including the most-watched men’s soccer match ever on the FS1 network for the USA vs. Argentina semifinal on June 21. The tournament has been televised in more than 160 countries around the world, reaching more than 1.5 billion households.

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.

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.”

As Maccabi Games come and go at Hitler’s stadium, is Germany now a (relative) light for Europe’s Jew


Soccer broadcaster Marcel Reif, 65, has received many angry letters during his three decades as one of Germany’s most famous sports personalities. He was born in Silesia in 1949. His father was a Jew who survived the Holocaust. His mother was a Polish Catholic. And Reif and his parents even lived in Tel Aviv for two years in the 1950s.

But Reif said he has received only one letter in his broadcasting career that has been even remotely anti-Semitic — it mentioned his “big nose.” People have written “many, many things,” Reif said during a recent meeting with a small group of foreign journalists at a cafe in the Berlin neighborhood of Charlottenburg. “Just once, once in 30 years, nothing more. Which is OK, it’s OK for this country.”

The soft-spoken commentator normally divides his time between Munich and Zurich, but he was in Berlin in the final week of July as an “ambassador” for the 14th European Maccabi Games, which were inaugurated in 1929 in Prague, and this year, for the first time, called Germany home. The games ran from July 27 to Aug. 5 at the highly symbolic venue of Olympic Stadium, once one of Adolf Hitler’s architectural prides and the site of the highly propagandized and Nazified 1936 Olympic Games, from which many Jewish athletes were barred.

The games featured more than 2,000 Jewish athletes from 36 countries (a majority of the athletes came from Germany, the United States, Israel, France, Great Britain, Russia and Turkey) competing in 19 sports at the Berlin Olympic Park, which, somewhat eerily, doesn’t look much different than it does in the infamous pictures from 1936, minus the Nazi decorations. 

Asked whether holding the games here could be seen as a “miracle,” Reif responded, “It’s remarkable. It’s not a miracle anymore, but that’s good.”

In the first days of the games, the symbolism was sometimes overwhelming, intentionally so. A July 28 memorial ceremony at the adjacent Olympiastadion complex featured a speech by Margot Friedlander, 93, a Holocaust survivor who grew up in Berlin and was captured by the Gestapo in 1944 and sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Friedlander moved with her husband to New York as a newlywed in 1946 and, upon his death in 2003, visited Berlin for the first time since being taken by the Nazis. She moved back to Berlin in 2010 and lives there now, sometimes speaking about the Holocaust to students at German schools.

As a steady rain fell on the approximately 1,500 athletes, relatives and dignitaries at the memorial ceremony, Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas remembered Jewish high jumper Gretel Bergmann, who was banned from competing in the 1936 games despite holding a national record. “Hitler robbed her of Olympic victory,” he told the crowd, “but now there’s a street named after her in Berlin.”

Maas talked about the sense of shame among Germans over the Holocaust — a shame visible everywhere in Berlin, with its myriad memorials and preserved historical sites, among them the lakeside Wannsee Villa, where the Final Solution was agreed upon by the Nazi high command, and the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. “Present-day enjoyment is not something we can really ever separate from the suffering of the past,” Maas said, adding that Jews’ desire now to live in Germany, and, in particular, in Berlin represents a “stroke of undeserved” fortune.

But is it really undeserved?

Consider the remorse German society and its government have shown for the Holocaust, which the vast majority of today’s Germans (well over 80 percent) did not live through. Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, a major Jewish figure in Germany and the head of the Chabad Jewish Educational Center in Berlin, told me during my visit, “There’s no nation in the history of the world that has done so much to try to express how ashamed it is for what was done by their country. Every two blocks you have another memorial.” 

In Berlin, I found myself feeling compassion for young Germans who carry the burden of deep guilt and shame at what a past version of Germany — one that’s unrecognizable to them — did decades before they were born. When I visited Ukraine some years ago, I didn’t sense the same remorse and introspection — the Jewish memorial at the Babi Yar site is tiny even though Ukrainians were instrumental in carrying out the Nazis’ massacre of Ukrainian Jewry — or in Russia, where, remaining consistent with a hesitancy, or refusal, to condemn its Soviet past, the mass persecution and oppression of millions of Jews by the communists is treated as more-or-less a nonissue today, even though the current Jewish community in Russia is very active.

Germany’s government and internal security services also have gone to great lengths to make their county as safe as possible for Jews, often not an easy task considering the combination of Islamist, far-right and far-left elements in Germany, as well as in the rest of Western Europe. “We do not live on an island of happiness,” said Daniel Botman, executive director of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. But, he said, “So far we have been spared from attacks. Differently to previous [governments], the German government is sensitive to these problems.”

The story of modern-day anti-Semitism in Western Europe and its impact on Jewish populations is not a simple one. The three largest Jewish communities in Western Europe are in France (475,000), the United Kingdom (290,000) and Germany (at least 200,000). The first two numbers are based on official surveys, and the third falls between the number of Jews in Germany registered with Jewish communities and the unofficial number that takes into account the large number of Jews from the former Soviet Union and Israel who aren’t part of a Jewish community.

But in the last 25 years, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, only one of Western Europe’s three largest countries has shown significant growth in its Jewish population — Germany, which had only 30,000 Jews in 1990.

The increasing rate of emigration of Jews from France to Israel is no longer a new story after the 2012 attack by Mohammed Merah on a Jewish school in Toulouse and the siege of Paris’ kosher Hypercacher market by Amedy Coulibaly last January. Each assailant murdered four Jews and in turn focused the news media on the growing North African Muslim (and alarmingly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel) population in France, as well as on the French government’s weaknesses in adequately protecting its Jewish population. 

In May, a Paris-based reporter for Britain’s Jewish Chronicle noted that soldiers were becoming less and less present at Jewish sites in Paris after their “around-the-clock” presence following the January attacks, and quoted the rabbi of a congregation who said, “We knew that level of protection wouldn’t last.” 

Between January and May of this year, according to French Jewry’s security service, the SPCJ, anti-Semitic incidents nearly doubled compared with the same period in 2014, reaching 508, 121 of which were violent. 

Team USA Soccer (under 18) went 2-3 in Berlin and lost in the bronze medal game to Sweden.

For the record, when I recently attended a Shabbat service at a large synagogue in the upscale Neuilly-sur-Seine suburb of Paris, I noticed two soldiers with rifles standing across the street as services let out. At Paris’ Holocaust museum, too, there were multiple heavily armed soldiers standing guard outside.

Spending time in Paris with two of my cousins — sisters who are in their 80s and have lived their entire lives in France — I heard concerns about a growing and hostile Muslim-Arab population similar to ones I’ve read about in American newspapers since the Hypercacher attack. And although Paris is certainly much safer and more attractive for Jews than it might seem from headlines in the U.S., it was clear that my cousins would rather live in Israel (they said they’re too old to move now), where they could join one of their daughters and two of their nieces who emigrated there decades ago.

During my visit, France felt like Europe’s past, with its fears, anxieties and narrative of emigration, while Berlin felt closer to Europe’s Jewish future, with its vibrancy, excitement and narrative of immigration. 

Germany, though, is certainly not an oasis of philo-Semitism. The country experienced nearly 1,600 anti-Semitic incidents in 2014, a 25 percent increase from the previous year. During Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas, largely Muslim protests swept through Western Europe, including Germany, with protestors chanting slogans like “Death to the Jews,” “Jews to the gas,” and “Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come on out and fight on your own.”

“This was certainly a wake-up call for many of us,” Botman said, suggesting that the country’s Jews had been living under a false sense of security until then. Interestingly, though — and this is a part of what makes anti-Semitism in Western Europe so dynamic and complex — while Germany has the largest Muslim population in Europe at nearly 5 million, it may also be less hostile to Jews than the Muslim immigrants in either France or the United Kingdom. 

According to a March report by the German government, in 2013 more than 95 percent of anti-Semitic incidents were perpetrated by neo-Nazis. That changed drastically in 2014, with Israel’s war with Hamas, but perhaps some comfort can be found in the fact that Germany’s Jews appear to have less to fear from a growing Muslim population than, say, Jews in France or the U.K. At the Maccabi Games, Rachel Heuberger, the mother of a volleyball player on the German team, said she feels “very safe” living in Frankfurt, and theorized that one key difference between the Muslim populations of Germany and say, France or the U.K., is that Germany’s Muslim citizens are overwhelmingly coming from Turkey. 

“There have been some attacks, but in general it’s very safe. It’s not like in France,” she said. “Most Muslim immigrants [here] are Turkish.” 

For the German government, dealing with neo-Nazi elements — something they have 70 years of experience with — may be simpler than dealing with newer, Islamist ones. However, another statistic hints that Germany’s Muslim immigrant population has less cause for concern about Jews than those in other parts of Western Europe. For while German intelligence estimates that about 700 Islamic State recruits have been from Germany (some of whom return), many more have come from France and the U.K., even though those countries have smaller Muslim populations than Germany’s.

David Stern, a 34-year-old German Jew, told me life in Berlin is “totally normal.” I spoke to him in the stands at Olympiastadion, where he was watching the opening ceremony with his wife and young daughter.

“Especially in Berlin, it’s very good surroundings. You have Jewish schools, Jewish kindergartens and a very big Jewish community,” Stern said.

Even in the U.K., the situation for Jews appears to be headed in the wrong direction. In February, the Community Security Trust (CST), which tracks anti-Semitism in the U.K., reported nearly 1,200 anti-Semitic incidents in 2014, more than twice the figure from the previous year. And in the first six months of 2015, the Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism reported 473 anti-Semitic incidents, a 53 percent increase from the corresponding period in 2014.

Dave Rich, CST’s communications director, said in a phone interview from London that he thinks the increase this year in the U.K.’s numbers is a result of better reporting techniques and “reporting drives” that CST runs across Jewish communities in the country, rather than more actual anti-Semitic incidents. “In terms of general day-to-day life, walking around London or Manchester wearing a yarmulke, it’s safe to do so,” Rich said, pointing out that most of the attacks on Jews in the U.K. are not politically motivated, but instead stem from things like “low-level street racism and xenophobia.”

Rich said that since 2010, the British government has spent more than $3 million per year beefing up security at Jewish schools, and earlier this year pledged more than $17 million for security at Jewish schools and other Jewish institutions. 

“After the terrorist attacks in Paris and in Copenhagen, we felt the psychological impact here in Britain, but it didn’t result in anyone leaving,” Rich said, adding that many French Jews who have left France have moved to London.

Nevertheless, these numbers don’t fully explain Europe’s complexities. A Pew Research Center survey in June showed that among Western European countries, Jews are viewed by the general population most favorably in France (92 percent), then in the U.K. (86 percent), and then in Germany (80 percent). The differences, then, in the sources and degrees of anti-Semitism in Western European countries, don’t impact whether governments must remain vigilant against it, but how they do so, and Germany’s government may have more experience than any on monitoring and thwarting it. Whereas France and the U.K. have a distinct Islamist problem, Germany continues to face a perpetual neo-Nazi, far-right element, regardless of events in Israel. 

“It’s not France. It’s not England. It’s a much, much better situation,” Teichtal said of Germany. “Not because the situation is really actually better, but because the authorities are truly doing everything they can to not let it become a political hindrance for Jews to be here.”

At the Maccabi Games opening ceremonies, it was impossible to walk 20 feet without seeing multiple police cars and armed security guards. Alon Meyer, the president of Makkabi Germany, said that the budget for the games was about $7.6 million. Asked how much went to pay for private security, he said, “very, very much.” The New York Times reported that security alone cost about $5.5 million. A Maccabi official later told the Times of Israel that 60 security guards were posted at the Hotel Estrel at all times, the site where athletes stayed, which is in the heavily Muslim Neukolln neighborhood. Another 300 guards were at Olympic Park during the day — 600 for the opening ceremony. 

Still, the Maccabi Games did not go on without some incidents, albeit small ones. On July 31, two teens in Neukolln taunted six Jewish men and threw an object at them, then fled. And at the Hotel Estrel, an Arab man yelled anti-Semitic slurs at two guards. And on Aug. 1, German police reported that anti-Semitic graffiti had been discovered on the East Side Gallery, an iconic section of the Berlin Wall. 

Since January, there have been many incidents in Germany of desecration of Jewish cemeteries and anti-Semitic graffiti. Maccabi athletes were advised to not wear identifying Jewish symbols in the streets and to avoid public transportation; and private busses transported the athletes from the hotel to Olympic Park for every event.

Yet that the Maccabi Games could be held in Berlin and celebrated by the German government is a testament to how far the country has come in two generations. And while non-Jewish Berliners didn’t seem to take notice of the games, many of the Maccabi volunteers were non-Jews, and the German daily newspaper Berliner Zeitung featured the Maccabi Games on its cover in its July 29 edition, a statement of mainstream recognition in Berlin.

Jews in Germany today “are proud of Germany,” Alon Meyer said. Teichtal characterized the Jewish scene in the country as an “unbelievable renaissance.” 

And although Germany’s Jewish community and infrastructure today is tiny by comparison to that of Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia or a host of Latin American countries, compared to the rest of Western Europe, Germany is starting to look like an increasingly attractive option.

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 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 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.

Colombia’s Jewish soccer hero: Jose Pekerman


A Jewish Argentinean has become a national hero in Colombia.

Coach Jose Pekerman is leading Colombia’s national soccer team to its best-ever appearance at the World Cup.

On Saturday the cafeteros (coffee makers) beat Uruguay 2-0 and reached the quarter final stage for first time.

Before this year, Colombia hadn’t even qualified for a World Cup since 1998.

Colombians in Israel celebrated the victory with a double dose of happiness.

Olga Zuloaga, who has lived in Israel for 14 years, was celebrating the victory with a group of friends on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv.

“We are very happy, our coach is Argentinean but Jewish,” she said.

When the Colombian team qualified for the World Cup last year, the country’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, called to congratulate him. Now, after the Uruguay match, a popular Twitter hashtag in Colombia is #PekermanPresidente – Pekerman for president.

But Pekerman, 64, lives in Argentina, in the Jewish Buenos Aires neighborhood of Villa Crespo. He started playing soccer with a Maccabi club in Argentina’s Entre Rios Province. He had previously coached the Argentina national team in the 2006 World Cup, losing in the quarterfinals against Germany.

Colombia’s next World Cup opponent is host country Brazil.

If after beating Uruguay, Colombians are saying they want Pekerman as their president, what will happen if he leads Colombia to victory over Brazil? Pekerman for king of Colombia?

 

Amnesia, not admiration for Israel’s 1964 soccer heroes


Fifty years ago this week, a group of mostly blue-collar workers and army conscripts led Israel to its only senior international soccer title, winning the 1964 Asian Cup in front of rapturous home crowds.

The achievements of those amateur players, who would skip work to train for the national team, was part of a golden age of Israeli football that culminated in the country's solitary World Cup appearance in 1970, yet is largely forgotten at home.

The collective amnesia over the 1964 victory followed the 1973 Middle East war and Israel's expulsion from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) a year later.

Instead, Israelis now look to Europe, where the country is ranked 36th out of 53 UEFA members, while the 50th anniversary of the Asian Cup win comes days after Palestine qualified for the tournament from which Israel was forced from.

Israel had been Asian Cup runners-up to South Korea in 1956 and 1960 and the same duo were favourites for the 1964 tournament, for which Israel were hosts.

Hong Kong and India were other teams in the final group, which would play a round-robin format, while Arab and many Muslim countries had refused to play Israel following its formation in 1948.

“The players were very excited – for most of us those were our first official appearances in the national team uniforms,” said Itzik Visoker, Israel's goalkeeper, who was 19 at the time.

For local fans, it was a chance to see the national team against their continental rivals four years before the country's first television station began regular broadcasts in 1968.

“There was a completely different attitude – even now it's a young country, can you imagine 50 years back?” said Mordechai Spiegler, 69, Israel's record international goal scorer.

“We heard a lot about football in the world, but didn't have a real connection – we could only hear it on the radio. The game was popular, but we knew there were more important issues. To play football, it was not a profession.”

The entire squad played for domestic clubs, with the bulk of the 15 players appearing from three outfits – Maccabi Jaffa, Hapoel Petah Tikva and Hapoel Tel Aviv.

DIFFICULT TIME

They were a mixture of local and foreign-born Jews, some from families whom had fled Europe before, during and after World War II and the Nazi Holocaust.

Former centre-back Gideon Tish, 75, was born in Israel after his family emigrated from Poland in the early 20th century.

“It was a very difficult time, the family was living in one room – the parents and four brothers,” Tish said.

Most players were manual workers or in the army and they trained three afternoons a week.

“We just got small presents like to go to a restaurant and eat for free,” 70-year-old Bulgarian-born former central defender Moshe Leon said. “We played with the heart, not for the money.”

Israel's coach, the late Yosef Merimovich, a Cypriot-born Jew, took charge of his first match – a 4-0 defeat to an England under-23 side including future World Cup winner Geoff Hurst – nine days before the tournament.

“He was a wonderful man, very straightforward, one of the idols of Israeli football,” Spiegler said of Merimovich, who died in 2011. “He was somebody for whom the flag meant a lot.”

Against Hong Kong in the tournament's opening game on May 26, Israel dominated in front of a 25,000 crowd at Tel Aviv's National Stadium, but struggled to make a breakthrough until Spiegler bundled home with 14 minutes left.

Three days later, Israel beat India 2-0 with Spiegler netting a penalty before Yemen-born forward Yohai Aharoni drifted in from the right wing to finish from close range and delight the 22,000 crowd at Jaffa's Bloomfield Stadium.

That meant Israel needed just a draw against South Korea on June 3 to be champions and the National Stadium was a 50,000 sell-out. All matches were played in the afternoon as floodlights were not yet available.

“We were confident we were going to win – they were about the same level as we were,” said Tish, a then bus mechanic.

Defensive pair Leon and Tish put Israel 2-0 up by halftime, the former beating several players before finishing from distance and the latter dispatching a 20-metre free-kick.

In between those goals, South Korea had a player sent off and although the outgoing champions pulled a goal back, Israel held on to win 2-1 and spark raucous celebrations.

“It was a carnival, a festival,” said Asher Goldberg, an Israeli football historian who attended Israel's three matches.

Israel was among the dominant forces in Asian football in the 1960s, winning four straight under-19 championships from 1964 to 1967 and finishing third at the 1968 Asian Cup in Iran.

“It was the first step to get into world football – they (the fans) were very proud, but in those days the football wasn't so important because we were always busy with the wars,” said Amatsia Levkovich, then a 26-year-old midfielder.

“In my life I've passed through seven wars. We still don't know if there will be another one. It was important to represent the country, to hear Hatikva (the national anthem) in Asia.”

Spiegler said Israel's senior Asian Cup triumph was the springboard for it to reach the 1970 World Cup, although he was one of only three players along with Visoker and defender David Primo from 1964 to be in what was a youthful squad in Mexico.

NOMADIC EXISTENCE

Israel led a nomadic football existence following its expulsion from the AFC in 1974 until joining UEFA in 1994.

This exile from football's regional confederations meant Israel sometimes went four years without a competitive senior fixture, while it did not play a single game in 1982, the year of Israel's invasion of Lebanon.

Israel has not qualified for a major tournament since 1970.

“Now we belong to Europe, I don't think we have a chance,” said Levkovich, who was Israel's assistant coach in Mexico, where the team earned draws against Sweden and eventual runners-up Italy and lost 2-0 to semi-finalists Uruguay.

“The level of football in Asia has developed, but it doesn't belong to us.”

Spiegler said it was not a lack of talent that had prevented Israel from making more of a mark internationally.

“Good players are talking football but they don't bring it to the field, they don't know the difference between individual and collective sport,” said Spiegler, who emigrated to Israel from Russia's Ural Mountains in 1949 and played for Paris St Germain and New York Cosmos, where Pele was a team mate.

“We were a national team, but played as a club. We took away ego, worked hard.”

Yet despite those memories, the surviving 1964 squad members do not plan to mark the 50th anniversary of their triumph.

“It was a moment of happiness, of glorious celebration, a moment we take with us forever,” added Spiegler.

Reporting by Matt Smith in Dubai; Editing by John O'Brien

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.

Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv name Paulo Sousa as new coach


Israeli champions Maccabi Tel Aviv have appointed Portuguese coach Paulo Sousa on a two-year contract, the club said on Wednesday.

Sousa, 42, moved to Maccabi from Hungarian side Fehervar. He previously coached the Portuguese Under-16 national side and had stints in England over a three-year stretch with Queens Park Rangers, Swansea City and Leicester City.

As a player, Sousa was a midfielder for Benfica, Sporting, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Parma, Panathinaikos and Espanyol and made 51 international appearances for Portugal.

He replaces Spaniard Oscar Garcia who left Maccabi at the end of last season for personal reasons.

Garcia, formerly the Barcelona youth team coach, was recruited by Maccabi technical manager Jordi Cruyff at the start of last season and led the perennial underachievers to their first league title in ten years.

Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Toby Davis

Soccer tourney brings Arabs, Jews together


Despite the summer heat radiating off of the soccer field, dozens of former professional soccer players from all over the world — and of varying faiths — gathered to play a friendly “Soccer Peace Tournament” on June 2 at Calabasas High School.

As athletes sprinted and fans cheered, one voice could be heard above all else. It was the biting commentary of Zouheir Bahloul, who good-naturedly teased each player during the four matches of the day.

One of the most recognizable stars of the Israeli soccer community, Bahloul is a former player who now is famous for his colorful commentary and sports journalism. As an Israeli Palestinian, he is passionate about using soccer to promote peace and coexistence between Arabs, Israelis and Americans — a triumvirate that’s had its fair share of conflict throughout the years.

So he was thrilled to be part of an event that matched up former members of the Israeli national soccer team with teams made up of local players — a U.S. team as well as teams made up of American Afghanis and American Iranians (winners of the tournament). All of the participants once played professionally.

“I think there is a lot of value within this [Israeli] team and this tournament,” Bahloul said. “Our team is a mix of Arabs and Jews playing together, coexisting together, cooperating together and living together. I think this is a very noble example of how we can solve our problems with sports, because sports are very pure.” 

The peace tournament was organized by Ben Drillings, a chiropractor who lives in Chatsworth, and sponsored by the Israeli American Council (IAC), formerly the Israeli Leadership Council.

“I was a soccer player on the Israeli national team and played with Rifaat Tourk, the first Arab and Muslim to play on the Israeli national team. … We became friends but haven’t seen each other in 31 years,” Drillings said. “But we got in touch, and we thought this tournament would be the beginning of another peace effort here.”

Tourk, who lives in Jaffa and coached the Israeli team in the tournament, has spent his entire post-soccer career working on building relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel. 

“I have a foundation for kids that has Arab kids working besides Jewish kids in order to make mixed life possible,” Tourk said. “I try my best to move these kids forward, socially, to make them share life — each beside the other.”

Dikla Kadosh, director of community events and volunteering for the IAC, said that is exactly the goal the group set out to accomplish.

“There’s not much at stake, but we wanted to create an environment of peace by playing against local Iranian teams and Afghani teams,” Kadosh said. “And the reason we wanted to be involved is because it’s something different. The whole mission of the IAC is to create programming that connects people to one another, and to the culture in Israel, and soccer is part of the culture.”

Qadir Latifi, one of the veteran Afghani players who participated in the tournament, was excited to take part in something with so many nationalities represented. 

“Our team has played in tournaments before, but it was mostly just Afghans. We’ve never played in a tournament that’s more international,” Latifi said, “so I’m proud to know that we’re going to be able to play for our country, and everyone else is playing for their countries.”

Although the Israeli team was the only one in the tournament that had to travel — the other three teams are based in Los Angeles and play together in adult community leagues — it still meant a lot to everyone involved for these communities to be playing together under the banner of peace. 

“I think it will help build better relationships within the communities out here,” said Shaul Maimon, captain of the Israeli team. “Football [soccer] brings everyone together. Anyone can play, so it makes for good relationships between people, and maybe, I hope, for the countries.”

This tournament also helped to break gender barriers. Diana Redman, the first female member of the Israeli national team, made an appearance as well. 

“I saw something for the event in a magazine and e-mailed Ben [Drillings] and said, ‘What’s going on?’ And he said, ‘Come on and join us!’ ” Redman said.

“It was really wonderful to be playing here as part of the event today,” she continued. “It’s the kind of thing I like to be involved in. I’ve been playing soccer my whole life, and I hope people are reminded that we have a women’s team, and there are a lot of people out there who want to do these kinds of events.”

Bahloul believes the stakes are high — much higher than a single soccer game.

“We are here,” he said, “to prove to ourselves and others that we can make it together and set a good example for the new generation.”

Desmond Tutu urges UEFA to strip Israel of Under-21 championship


South African anti-apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutu has joined calls for UEFA to move the Under-21 European championship from Israel because of the Jewish state's treatment of Palestinian sport.

UEFA has resisted the requests but Tutu's letter, to Britain's Guardian newspaper, which was also signed by ex-Mali striker Frederic Kanoute and a number of prominent sympathisers of the Palestinian cause, is aimed at increasing the pressure.

Last week UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino, speaking after the UEFA Congress in London, refused to condemn Israel or accept that the competition, which runs from June 5-18, should be moved.

Infantino told a news conference: “UEFA and the Israeli FA is responsible for football, it cannot be held responsible for the politics of a national government.

“And we have no plans to move the tournament, which is being held legitimately in a UEFA member association.”

After last week's Congress, pro-West Bank demonstrators broke into a banquet being held for UEFA delegates, interrupting proceedings, but were removed by security officers.

Palestinians complain that Israeli authorities restrict the movement of their athletes between the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Islamist Hamas faction that calls for Israel's destruction, and the West Bank in which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah group exercises limited civilian rule.

Israel limits the movement of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank citing security concerns but says it has eased travel for athletes.

UEFA, European soccer's governing body, last week agreed tougher sanctions to combat racism among players and officials and the authors of the letter feel the same standards should be applied to Israel.

Tutu's letter read: “On Friday, delegates from European football associations gathered in a London hotel for UEFA's annual congress. They agreed new, strict guidelines to deal with racism, suggesting a commendable determination to combat discrimination in the sport.

“We find it shocking that this same organisation shows total insensitivity to the blatant and entrenched discrimination inflicted on Palestinian sportsmen and women by Israel.

“We call on UEFA, even at this late stage, to reverse the choice of Israel as a venue.”

The Israeli FA has consistently said that UEFA will not bring political issues into the soccer arena.

Tutu, 81, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for standing up against white-minority rule in South Africa.

He played a pivotal role in the downfall of apartheid and subsequently worked to heal wounds in South Africa's traumatised society.

Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Mike Collett. Writing by Mark Meadows, editing by Tony Goodson

Maccabi Tel Aviv back on top but coach future uncertain


Champions Maccabi Tel Aviv have reasserted their dominance of Israeli soccer but media reports on Tuesday suggested they might have to continue their revival without coach Oscar Garcia.

The country's wealthiest club lost 3-0 to Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv in the final fixture of the season on Monday, but it mattered little as Maccabi had clinched a record 20th league title a month ago.

They pushed 2011 champions Maccabi Haifa into second place to celebrate their first championship since 2003.

The $30 million annual budget that Canadian owner Mitch Goldhar set for Maccabi paid off after three seasons of disappointment, and his decision to pair manager Garcia and technical manager Jordi Cruyff was vindicated.

A Maccabi source said next season's budget, an unprecedented sum for an Israeli soccer club, would remain similar to this season's, giving the club a strong chance of extending its success.

But speculation about Garcia's future has begun, with Israeli media reporting that the former Barcelona youth team coach might leave.

Reports suggested Garcia told his players following Monday's loss that he might not be back next season, saying he could return to Spain. The club declined to comment.

Cruyff told Maccabi's website that next season — when Maccabi will play in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League — would herald a fresh start.

“Next season we will all start from zero so it is very important that we are well prepared, because we will need to do a lot to stay at the top … We will try to continue to improve in every aspect of our game,” Cruyff said.

Editing by Stephen Wood

David Miliband resigns from soccer team after hiring of fascist coach


Britain's Jewish former foreign secretary resigned from the board of a soccer club after the team appointed a coach who gave a Nazi-style salute at a game in Rome.

Italian Paolo Di Canio, who was appointed head coach of the Sunderland team on Sunday, is a self-described fascist and admirer of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

David Miliband resigned Sunday as the vice chairman of the English soccer club.

“I wish Sunderland AFC all success in the future,” Miliband said. “However, in the light of the new manager’s past political statements, I think it right to step down.”

Miliband left politics in March to take a job in New York as head of the International Rescue Committee, an international humanitarian aid organization, Reuters reported.  His brother, Ed, is head of Britain's Labor Party and in line to be the next prime minister. The Miliband brothers are the sons of Polish Jewish immigrants.

Beitar Jerusalem fans walk out on Muslim player’s goal


Hundreds of fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team walked out of the stadium in the wake of the first goal scored by a Muslim player.

The walkout occurred Sunday night during a game against Maccabi Netanya, which ended in a 1-1 tie. The team has lost four of its past five games.

Forward Zaur Sadayev, a Chechen Muslim who recently joined the team, scored in the second half of the game. He was cheered by the majority of the Beitar Jerusalem fans that remained in the stands.

Two players from the Chechen Terek Gorzny team joined Beitar Jerusalem at the beginning of February, amid protests from nationalist fans.

In recent weeks, fans have been removed from games for chanting anti-Arab and racist slogans.

Israeli soccer player on U.K. team barred from entering Dubai


An Israeli soccer player for a British team is sitting out a team visit to Dubai because of tensions between the emirate and Israel.

The 25-year-old striker, Itay Schechter, who plays for Swansea City, was prevented from attending the six-day group training session, The Jewish Chronicle reported on Wednesday.

The United Arab Emirates does not recognize the state of Israel and Israeli passport holders can be arrested and deported on entering without a special visa. Dubai is one of the UAE's severn emirates, or city-states.

Hamas and Dubai have accused Israel of assassinating Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a hotel in Dubai in January 2010 in a plot involving a dozen assassins using forged passports from Britain, Ireland, Germany and France, among other countries.

Schechter, who was once a victim of anti-Semitic abuse when he was given a Nazi salute during a training session, has traveled to Israel to train with his former Hapoel Tel Aviv football club ahead of a Premier League match this Sunday, the newspaper reported.

In 2009, the Dubai Tennis Championships was levied a record fine over its country's refusal to award a visa to Israeli tennis player Shahar Pe'er. She received a visa and appeared in the 2010 tournament in Dubai.

75 Israeli soccer fans ejected over racist chanting


Some 75 Israeli soccer fans were removed from a game between Beitar Jerusalem and the Israeli-Arab Bnei Sakhnin team for anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim taunting.

Police removed an equal number of fans from each team — many before Sunday's match at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem even started — according to reports. Hundreds of police were called in to secure some 9,000 spectators for the game.

Fans of the two teams have clashed in the past. In addition, Beitar Jerusalem fans over the past two weeks have protested the recent hiring of two Muslim players from the Chechen Terek Gorzny team.

While many Beitar Jerusalem fans shouted for the new Muslim players to “go home,” some cheered loudly when one of the two new players, Gabriel Kadiev, took the field and each time he touched the ball, according to reports.

The game ended in a 2-2 tie.

On Feb. 8, arsonists set fire to the trophy room of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team following the indictment of four fans for anti-Muslim hate speech.

Hours before the match, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Israeli soccer fans to reject racism.

“The last thing we want, and which we absolutely reject is violence, racism and boycotts. These are unacceptable to us. I say this in regards to a team that I have supported for years, Beitar Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said Sunday morning at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting. “Lately, we have seen displays of extremism that we find unacceptable. These must be uprooted from the public sphere and, of course, from the world of sports.”

Beitar arson attack linked to racial incitement


A suspected arson attack damaged the main club house of Israeli Premier League side Beitar Jerusalem on Friday, a day after four fans were charged in court in connection with racist incitement against the team's recruitment of Muslim players, police said.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the fire, which caused no injuries, caused “extensive damage” to the premises next to the team's main training grounds. Reuters television footage showed trophies and other memorabilia were destroyed.

“Initial findings show the blaze was caused by a number of suspects” and police were investigating a possible link to protests over the team's signing up of two Chechen Muslim players last month, Rosenfeld said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the violence, saying in a statement on Friday: “This behavior is shameful. We must not accept such racist behavior.”

He added: “The Jewish people which has suffered from boycotts and persecution, should serve as a light unto other nations.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said police would take “a heavy hand to put an end to this issue,” and praised the club for what he saw as steps toward “fighting racism and violence”.

The Israel Football Association (IFA) said that soccer's world governing body FIFA had requested clarification following racist chanting by fans at a league fixture last month against the Chechen players.

A Jerusalem court had indicted four fans on Thursday for involvement in that incitement, police said.

The club has also been disciplined for that incident and were ordered to close the Teddy Kollek Stadium's 7,000-seat eastern grandstand, where hard core supporters sit, for five matches. They also received a 50,000 shekels ($13,500) fine.

Beitar are a bastion of Israel's political right wing and the only leading team in the country never to have signed an Arab player because of fan pressure.

They have the worst disciplinary record in Israel's Premier League. Since 2005, Beitar have faced more than 20 hearings and have received various punishments, including points deductions, fines and matches behind closed doors.

Arab citizens make up some 20 percent of Israel's population of almost eight million. Arab players feature prominently at all other clubs and have long been included in Israel's national team.

Additional reporting by Ori Lewis; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by John O'Brien

Beitar Jerusalem soccer fans protest hiring of Muslim players


Fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club are protesting its decision to bring in two Muslim players.

The players from the Chechen Terek Gorzny team will join Beitar Jerusalem in the coming in days.

During a Premier League game last Friday against Bnei Yehuda at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, three fans were arrested for chanting anti-Muslim slogans. A sign reading “Beitar will be pure forever” was unfurled during the game. 

“As far as I'm concerned, there is no difference between a Jewish player and a Muslim player,” team owner Arkadi Gaydamak, a Russian-Israeli tycoon, told Ynet in an interview.

Last March, hundreds of Beitar Jerusalem fans chanting anti-Arab slogans assaulted Arab workers at a Jerusalem mall following a game. Sixteen fans were arrested; six were banned from future games.

Alleged anti-Semitism of Rome team’s soccer fans to be investigated


European soccer authorities have opened disciplinary proceedings against the Rome soccer team Lazio for the alleged anti-Semitism of its fans.

The action follows alleged racist chanting and other racist and anti-Semitic behavior on the part of hardcore fans at a match with London’s Tottenham Hotspur team in Rome in November. Tottenham has many Jewish supporters who sometimes call themselves the “Yid army.”

According to a statement issued Monday by the Union of European Football Associations, “Proceedings will also be instigated against Lazio for throwing of missiles and/or fireworks by their supporters, incidents of a non-sporting nature, late team arrival at the stadium, and late handling of the team sheet.”

At the Nov. 22 match, Lazio fans chanted “Juden Tottenham” and unfurled a large banner reading “Free Palestine.” The game ended in a 0-0 draw. Lazio is known for its militant, far-right hardcore fans.

The night before the match, several Tottenham fans were injured when dozens of men wearing masks and helmets, and wielding knives and clubs, attacked them at a pub on central Rome’s popular Campo de’ Fiori.

The UEFA statement said the soccer union “will also commence proceedings against Tottenham Hotspur FC, who face charges related to crowd disturbances.” The UEFA's Control and Disciplinary Body will discuss both cases on Jan. 24.

The Mensch List: Putting Sunday sports in play


Nowhere in the Torah does it say: “And on the seventh day, God played soccer.” Which is too bad for observant Jewish youths who would love to take advantage of the many local sports leagues that play on Saturdays.

Fortunately, there are Dr. Matthew Lefferman and Eric Weissman. These two members of the Modern Orthodox congregation B’nai David-Judea in Pico-Robertson have worked tirelessly to ensure the presence of Sunday sports games locally.

“People are delighted to know that there is an opportunity for their kids to participate in athletic opportunities and still practice their Judaism as they want to,” said Weissman, 38, a father of two.

The pair have taken a three-pronged approach. Both men coach with the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), which already had Sunday games. Lefferman, who coaches two teams, has acted as an unofficial liaison to help recruit Sunday players, coaches and referees.

They also lobbied Beverly Hills Little League to create a Sunday division, then helped structure and run it. Now they sit on its board.

In order to further expand opportunities for Jewish youths, they formed the nonprofit Maccabee Athletic Club (MAC) a year ago. It started with a club soccer team and this year is expanding to basketball and flag football. 

Story continues after the video.