The FIFA fiasco: What woeful wimps

Israel’s response to the Palestinian initiative to suspend it from FIFA epitomized everything that is wrong with its public diplomacy.

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June 5, 2015 01:02
FIFA President Sepp Blatter leaves the stage after making a speech

FIFA President Sepp Blatter leaves the stage after making a speech during the opening ceremony of the 65th FIFA Congress in Zurich, Switzerland. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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We the Palestinians are the enemies of Israel. There is no going back to negotiations. Listen. We as yet don’t have a nuke, but I swear that if we had a nuke, we would have used it this very morning.
- Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestine Football Association (PFA) on Lebanese TV station Al-Mayadeen, April 30, 2013

Any activity of normalization in sports with the Zionist enemy is a crime against humanity.
- Jibril Rajoub, Facebook, September 8, 2014

I appeal to Jibril Rajoub – I want us to work together, I want us to cooperate, I want us to hug and embrace each other.
- Ofer Eini, head of the Israel Football Association (IFA), in response to Rajoub’s attempt to suspend Israel from FIFA, The Telegraph, June 2, 2015

Benjamin Netanyahu is right when he says that the Palestinians are not only challenging the occupation, but Israel’s actual existence.
- Nahum Barnea, columnist, on Rajoub’s attempt to suspend Israel from FIFA, June 2, 2015

 
 

Israelis have many things to be proud of.

The way Israel conducted itself during the recent FIFA brouhaha was definitely NOT one of them.

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Illuminating & instructive

Indeed, Israel’s response to the Palestinian initiative, headed by former arch-terrorist Jibril, to have it suspended from FIFA (International Federation of Association Football), in Zurich last Friday, epitomized everything that is wrong with the country’s public diplomacy, and its floundering attempts to confront burgeoning international efforts to isolate it.

In this regard, it was an episode that was both illuminating and instructive – in the negative sense of the words.

For although “Israeli diplomatic officials expressed relief over the weekend following the Palestinian Football Association decision on Friday to withdraw its proposal to kick Israel out of FIFA” (Jerusalem Post, May 29), their claim that this constituted “not only a victory for Israeli soccer but a significant diplomatic triumph” has a distinctly hollow ring to it.

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Thus, despite the fact that the Palestinian effort was unsuccessful (this time), I find myself in the bizarre position of having to concur with the assessment made by someone I almost never agree with: Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi. Indeed, it is difficult to dispute his contention that the Israeli celebration of the withdrawal of the Palestinians suspension bid as a “diplomatic victory” is decidedly misplaced. Acerbically, but sadly, not inaptly, Tibi jabbed: “The joy on the Israeli side is that somebody fell from the first floor and broke an arm and a leg – instead of his neck. [Friday’s] yellow card will likely lead to a red card in the future.”

Degrading, dysfunctional, defeatist

 Indeed, Palestinians did not end up empty handed. Though Rajoub withdrew the demand for the suspension of Israel, he submitted an amended resolution, phrased in extremely harsh – even hostile – language toward Israel, which was passed by 90% of the FIFA Congress.

This, in itself, comprises a significant gain for the Palestinians. The resolution begins in the following terms: “In order to end the suffering and discrimination of our Palestinian football family at the hands of the illegal and racist occupation of our land, we have presented a proposal for a final solution.”

Incredibly, the Israeli representative, Ofer Eini, endorsed the amended resolution, which called for setting up mechanisms for monitoring Palestinian complaints – thereby implicitly lending credence to them! To grasp the gravity of this, consider the implications of the main “Palestinian concerns” stipulated in the amended resolution: (1) The restrictions of Palestinian rights for the freedom of movement. (2) The continued racism and discriminatory behavior of IFA officials and clubs in direct violation of…the principles of FIFA, [including FIFA’s no-tolerance policy against racism and discrimination] (3) the grave concern over at least five Israeli clubs located in illegal settlements in the occupied State of Palestine. (Ha’aretz, May 29).

The fact that “Israeli diplomatic officials” could consider the overwhelming endorsement of such a perniciously worded resolution anything remotely approaching a “significant diplomatic triumph” boggles the mind – and starkly underscores the degrading, dysfunctional, and defeatist depths to which Israeli diplomacy has descended.

Moronic, not moral


The acknowledgment – tacit or otherwise – that there is any substance to the Palestinian allegations, requiring “monitoring” of Israeli conduct, on any one of these issues has gravely detrimental political ramifications.

As such, it is far more moronic than it is moral. For example, take the allegation regarding “restrictions” on Palestinian “freedom of movement.”

After all, it was Rajoub himself who designated Palestinians as the “enemy” of Israel, and admitted that but for the lack of means to do so, he would willingly – even, eagerly – inflict a nuclear holocaust on the Jewish state himself.

Accordingly, why would he expect Israel to grant unrestricted freedom of movement to self-declared enemies merely because they happen to play football? Worse, why should Eini, as IFA chairman, grant any semblance of legitimacy to such an unfounded demand? Indeed, concern as to the possible nature of Palestinian footballers’ conduct is not a baseless, vindictive whim on the part of Israel. Quite the opposite. Barely six months ago, a member of the Palestinian soccer team was arrested for collaboration with Hamas. Clearly, it would be wildly naïve to assume that merely because they engage in sporting activity, Palestinian footballers would be immune to contacts with Palestinian terrorist organizations, and should therefore be granted unrestricted movement without any security supervision by Israel to ensure the life and limb of its civilians.

Moreover, it would be even more naïve to assume that, if they were in fact granted such unrestricted freedom, Palestinian terrorist organizations would not exploit it to facilitate operations that imperil the lives and limbs of countless Israeli civilians.

Sycophantic and superfluous self-denigration

Worse, by backing a resolution that effectively calls to monitor Palestinian allegations of “continued racism and discriminatory behavior of IFA officials and clubs in direct violation of …the principles of FIFA…,” Eini implicitly conceded that such monitoring is justified. Accordingly, he lends weight to the accusation there may indeed be manifestations of racist discrimination on the part of Israeli football officials, strengthening the Palestinian case for condemnation.

Since anyone with a smidgeon of knowledge of Israel’s policy considerations, which are driven solely, but alas, often inadequately, by security concerns, such allegations are wildly unfounded, making the endorsement of the amended resolution little more than sycophantic and superfluous self-denigration.

Such displays of demeaning self-deprecation only embolden the adversary and invite evermore outrageous and outlandish accusations.

But arguably the most detrimental aspect politically was the acquiescence to the resolution’s inclusion of “the grave concern over at least five Israeli clubs located in illegal settlements in the occupied State of Palestine.”

For not only does this concede – almost explicitly – the unilateral status of statehood to the politically dysfunctional and economically destitute Palestinian entity, but undermines the standing of the “large settlement blocs.”

After all, the “illegal settlements” mentioned are Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Bik’at Hayarden and Givat Ze’ev. With one possible exception, these communities fall within broad public consensus in Israel, including avid mainstream two-staters, as remaining part of sovereign Israeli territory, even after any envisaged permanent peace accord with the Palestinians.

Accordingly, to have them designated, with nary a word of protest, as “illegal settlements” within the “occupied State of Palestine” is distinctly prejudicial to any claims Israel may wish to make in the future.

A certain irony…

Although since his appointment as president, Reuven Rivlin seems to have strayed considerably from many of his prior hawkish positions, and veered sharply into the comfortable consensus of the politically correct, his response to the Palestinians’ FIFA initiative was appropriately assertive.

During the visit of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, he commented that there is a certain irony in the fact that those who brutally murdered Israeli athletes in cold blood at the 1972 Munich Olympics were the ones today trying to oust Israel from FIFA.

But the irony is far deeper.

For it is gallingly ironic that the Palestinians, who regularly portray the Jews as descendants of pigs and apes in their official media channels, and who insist that, if they establish a state, it must be entirely Judenrein , should accuse the Jews of racism!

It is infuriatingly ironic that Palestinians bewail that “Israeli jets bombed our soccer fields and recreational areas” (New York Times, May 28), when there is documented evidence that football fields and recreational centers have been used as rocket launching sites against Israeli civilian targets.

It is breathtakingly ironic that Rajoub, until recently a sought after participant in high profile events in Israel, should mendaciously malign Israel in Zurich, complaining that the Palestinian situation was “even worse than what was in South Africa. There they wanted them to be slaves…here in Palestine, they don’t want us to be.” After all, it was Rajoub himself, who openly expressed the desire to incinerate the entire population of the Jewish state with a nuclear bomb…

Decades of dereliction: FIFA as a symptom

I could continue to demolish the Palestinian disingenuous FIFA case, claim after spurious claim. But that is not – or at least should not be – the principle focus of attention.

For what is far more important than how the issue of the FIFA suspension was handled is the issue of why it arose at all. After all, unless the root-causes of the malaise are treated, the symptoms will keep recurring, until eventually, the disease turns terminal and the outcome fatal. Indeed, for almost two years now I have warned repeatedly that while we can liken the danger of an Iranian bomb to being run over by a truck, we can liken the dangers inherent in Israel’s public diplomacy debacle to being afflicted by an HIV virus that destroys one’s immune system and capacity to defend oneself.

Although the former is somewhat more “kinetic,” both are equally lethal.

Two weeks ago, and against the backdrop of another focus of assault on Israel’s legitimacy – US campuses – I responded to a lament by Nathan Sharansky ,chairman of the Jewish Agency, (Jerusalem Post , May 19) diagnosing the reasons for Israel’s appalling public diplomacy performance and the perilous consequences likely to arise if these are not robustly remedied. (‘Delegitimization, anti-Semitism & BDS: Sharansky’s misdirected lament,’ May 21).

In it, I detailed the series of four articles I wrote setting out the qualitative and quantitative pre-requisites needed for an effective counter-attack to confront, curtail and counter the burgeoning delegitimization/ demonization of the Jewish nation-state, which I noted had, sadly, fallen “on deaf, or at least unresponsive, ears”.

Rather than repeat verbatim what I prescribed then, I refer “Into the Fray” followers to my Jerusalem Post Author page (http:// www.jpost.com/Author/Martin-Sherman), where the article appears.

Billionaires, beware!

Recently, however, there appears to be growing awareness of the need, if not the means required, to address the issue of delegitimization as a strategic threat to the survival of the country.

There are reports that several billionaire philanthropists are gearing to fill the vacuum created by governmental indolence and incompetence. The group, said to include figures such as Sheldon Adelson, Haim Saban, Heather Reisman, and Adam Milstein are apparently preparing a “professional task force” to tackle the problem.

While this, if true, is undoubtedly a welcome and sorely needed initiative, allow me to offer a word of caution: To achieve victory in the war on delegitimization, the fundamental source of delegitimization must be identified and eliminated.

Accomplishing this in today’s climate of politically correct despotism calls for considerable intellectual integrity, a willingness to challenge accepted norms and the capacity to acknowledge that the counterintuitive may well be an unavoidable imperative.

Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote: “Clearly, within the context of conventional wisdom… the contention that Israel’s acceptance of the legitimacy of Palestinian national claims has laid the foundations for the international assault on its own legitimacy seems, at best, counterintuitive. However, the logic behind it is unassailable and the conclusion to be drawn from it inexorable: Once the legitimacy of a Palestinian state is conceded, the delegitimization of Israel is inevitable.”

The chain of reasoning is clear and compelling – almost algorithmic. For the Zionist narrative to be re-legitimized, the Palestinian narrative must be delegitimized. For Israel to regain its legitimacy, “Palestine” must be stripped of its legitimacy. For as Nahum Barnea correctly diagnoses: “the Palestinians are not only challenging the occupation, but Israel’s actual existence.”

Unless this is grasped and acted on, even billionaires will be of no avail.

Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (www.strategicisrael.org)

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