The anti-Israel online magazine +972 has hailed “The First Palestinian World Cup.” The New York Times called the Palestinians “the World Cup’s Unofficial Team.” The Washington Post declared, “At the World Cup, the Arab world rallies to Palestinian cause.” Much of the rest of the media has played along.
Given the media’s obsession with the Palestinian cause and need to cover it out of all proportion to its importance in world affairs, it was not surprising the two major papers would find a way to make the World Cup about the Palestinians, even though it wasn’t.
Yes, the Moroccan team unfurled a Palestinian flag, and there have been examples of support for the Palestinian cause among fans. But did this merit a story? Maybe, but if you’re going to report it, shouldn’t journalists at least place the activities in context and admit that it was pre-planned and supported by the Qatari government?
Alas, that is always too much to expect from the Times and the Post.
The papers briefly mentioned the double standard employed by the Qataris and FIFA, the governing body of the World Cup, which banned all other political displays, such as Iran’s revolutionary flag and symbols of the LGBTQ community. The Palestinians, as they always do, got a free pass. Given the much-publicized corruption involved in FIFA’s decision to award the Cup to Qatar, it is not surprising that the soccer federation kowtowed to the Qataris rather than uphold its commitment to keep politics out of the tournament.
The Times and the Post also refused to report that the Qataris encouraged the obsession with the Palestinians to divert attention from Qatar’s abysmal human rights record, including the use of slave labor to build the venues for the tournament.
Instead of noting this, the Post quoted a Qatari professor—obviously an objective source—who said, “The presence of Palestinian flags at stadiums was ‘not organized by states, but something genuine from within the people themselves.’”
The press has parroted this claim that the expressions of support for the Palestinians were spontaneous. Yet it is all but impossible for a building in Doha to be lit with a Palestinian flag alongside a sign reading “Gaza is in our hearts” without it being planned long in advance. In addition, shopkeepers in Qatar were selling Palestinian flags and armbands, which could not have happened without the government’s tacit approval.
The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has noted that the Palestinians planned a major publicity campaign before the Cup. Among other things, it urged captains of Arab teams to wear the colors of the Palestinian flag and encouraged spectators to wave Palestinian flags in the stands and outside the stadiums, as well as hang them from cars and buildings. The campaign also included the dispatch of “ambassadors of Palestine” to talk to fans about the Palestinian cause, and calls for mainstream and social media to promote Palestinian propaganda.
The Times and Post articles further conflate fans rooting for the Moroccan team with supporters of the Palestinians. However, as Steven Cook noted in Foreign Policy, “It is reasonable to assume that most of these people were not actually pro-Palestinian activists. It was football fans who supported Palestinian rights and took advantage of the world stage that is the largest football tournament in the world.”
While reporters for the two papers quoted fans espousing the Palestinian cause, most of those who supported the Moroccan team almost certainly did so for non-political reasons. Some wanted to see an Arab, Muslim and African team win, while others love to see an underdog defeat the soccer powerhouses. Acknowledging such facts, however, would not fit the narrative endorsed by the Times and the Post.
The papers also used the pro-Palestinian demonstrations to denigrate the Abraham Accords, one of the most important events in the Middle East for at least a half-century. Is it because the Accords were negotiated under the Trump administration? Or because they undermined the journalists’ belief that the Palestinian issue is the root of all the region’s problems? Perhaps both?
Moreover, people in the Abraham Accords countries have been indoctrinated with anti-Israel and often antisemitic propaganda by state media and the educational system for their entire lives. So, why is anyone surprised that they have not instantly become Zionists? It may take decades for them to come around, if they ever do, given that they remain exposed to incessant attacks on Israelis and Jews by the U.N., human rights organizations, educators, religious extremists and the media.
The Times and the Post also don’t mention that Qatar is behind the most popular media source in the region, Al Jazeera, which is an anti-Israel propaganda arm of the government.
The Post further diminished the Accords by claiming they “only reflect top-level elite interests in the region.”
What about the collaboration between Israel and the Gulf states in fighting COVID? What about all the businesses that benefit from the burst of tourism from Israel? What about cooperation relating to agriculture in desert conditions, water management and irrigation? What about the agreement for a joint R&D fund to commercialize solutions to challenges like climate change and clean energy? What about the efforts to promote religious coexistence? What about the Israeli intelligence and weapons systems that protect citizens of those countries from Iran?
It is nothing new for the media to cheer the Palestinians or ignore their incitement, terrorism, abuse of human rights and corruption. Such virtue-signaling during the World Cup gives Palestinians a warm and fuzzy feeling without changing their circumstances. They still are under the thumb of the Abbas and Hamas regimes, whose commitment to Israel’s destruction guarantees their flag may be unfurled at a soccer match in Qatar, but not over a capital in Jerusalem.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby,” “Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”