The FIFA World Cup in Qatar has arguably become the most controversial to date, raising widespread indignation over myriad issues concerning its host, including Qatar’s decision to ban beer from stadiums and its mistreatment of the press, the LGBTQ+ community and migrant workers, 6,500 of whom have died since Qatar was awarded the Cup.
Many issues have been spotlighted, but another has gone unaddressed: FIFA’s refusal to handle its own systemic antisemitism. Since this World Cup’s festivities began, Qatar and FIFA’s proxies have made their intent to exclude Jews very clear. FIFA’s silence has been deafening.
First, a FIFA website designed to sell World Cup tickets and accommodations sought to make easily identifiable Jewish guests feel unwelcome. To book tickets, fans had to book through an intermediary page according to their country of residence. Israel—where nearly half of all Jews live—was initially omitted, replaced with “Occupied Palestinian Territories.” Silence from FIFA.
Reports then emerged that Qatar had banned Jewish guests attending the World Cup from public prayer and reneged on a promise to offer cooked kosher food at games, despite the demand for it, given that 10,000 to 20,000 Israelis were expected at the Cup. Again, silence from FIFA.
On four occasions, high profile experts on antisemitism wrote to FIFA, asking that two antisemitism advisers be permitted to attend and monitor the tournament. The proposal could have been implemented for free. These advisers and their insights certainly could have been valuable at an event hosted by a country that has given nearly $2 billion to Hamas, which aspires to commit genocide against the Jews. FIFA ignored the letters.
Antisemitism has since surged at the games. Qatar has allegedly exercised double standards, allowing fans to protest against Israel at the Cup, but not against other countries. Fans have also sought to bully Israeli reporters, at times denying the Jewish state’s existence and screaming that Israelis are not welcome.
With FIFA evidently struck dumb in the face of antisemitism, fans and FIFA officials must seize on this World Cup as an opportunity to demand that FIFA rectify its systemic antisemitism, both current and historical.
FIFA must first do so by offering Israel the opportunity to rejoin FIFA’s Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Israel’s expulsion from the AFC in 1974 was antisemitic and has permanently stifled the Jewish state’s world soccer prospects.
Attempts to boycott Israel, including its presence in the AFC, have long been designed to undermine and eliminate Israel’s existence and the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The first large-scale boycotts against Israel in the AFC arose during the 1958 championship—well before Israel assumed control over the disputed territories, belying any notion that they were based on specific political issues. Such boycotts were predominantly spearheaded by Muslim countries, many of which forfeited their matches in order to avoid engaging with Israel. This was an attempt to normalize antisemitism in the global community.
Eventually, in 1974, Kuwait spearheaded a resolution that, based on stolid Arab rejection of Israel’s sovereignty, resulted in Israel’s expulsion from the AFC. Team Israel would remain a nomad in the international soccer world until joining the much more competitive Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) 20 years later.
Israel’s expulsion from the AFC, and FIFA’s institutionalization of this discriminatory conduct, stifled Israel’s sports ambitions. Despite having won an Asian Cup and qualified for the World Cup while in the AFC, Israel has qualified for neither a World Cup nor a European Championship since joining UEFA. Israel’s presence in UEFA is unnatural. It remains the only country in the league that is not located in Europe.
To combat antisemitism, FIFA must combat the double standards it has institutionalized against the Jewish state. Article IV of FIFA’s statutes clearly proscribes discrimination against a country, individual or group based on national origin, ethnic origin, religion or political opinion. In accordance with its own governing policies, FIFA must offer Israel the option of returning to the AFC. FIFA must also use Article IV, as appropriate, to punish any team that threatens to impede such efforts.
FIFA’s senior leadership must also refrain from normalizing antisemitism targeting Israel, such as agreeing to meet with patent antisemites, such as Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas, a Holocaust denier who has incited violence, and head of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril Rajoub, who was banned from FIFA after inciting violence against the Argentinean team because it planned to play in Israel.
Lastly, but perhaps most important as an immediate first step, FIFA should adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism in order to guide the organization in addressing future discrimination towards Jews and the Jewish state. The IHRA definition represents an international consensus. It has been endorsed by 865 institutions, including nearly 40 countries and some of soccer’s greatest institutions—the English Premier League, the Argentine Football Association and Borussia Dortmund.
FIFA’s inaction in the face of antisemitism has enabled the institutionalization and acceptance of hate in the world of international soccer. FIFA should give itself a thorough review and finally show antisemitism the red card, disqualifying anti-Jewish bigotry from the game for good.
Jordan Cope is the director of policy education for StandWithUs, an international, non-partisan educational organization that supports Israel and fights antisemitism.
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