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June 13, 2018 11:51 am

FIFA Examining Sanctions Against Palestinian Soccer Chief After Cancellation of Argentina Match, Israeli Officials Say

avatar by Ben Cohen

Argentina captain Lionel Messi arriving in Moscow for the 2018 World Cup. Photo: Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin.

Israeli soccer officials said on Wednesday that they had received assurances from FIFA — the governing body of world soccer — that disciplinary proceedings will be launched against Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestine Football Association (PFA), for his campaign of incitement that led to the cancellation of a scheduled match between Israel and Argentina on June 9.

A statement from the Israel Football Association (IFA) on Wednesday stated that FIFA’s Council — meeting in Moscow on the eve of the 2018 World Cup, which opens in Russia on Thursday — had “decided to initiate disciplinary proceedings” against Rajoub. The statement emphasized that Rajoub’s incitement had included threats to burn replica shirts bearing the name of veteran star Lionel Messi, Argentina’s captain, and comparisons of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians with the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany.

The IFA said that it had submitted a formal complaint to FIFA immediately after the canceled match, adding that the body’s Disciplinary Committee was examining “possible sanctions” against Rajoub.

Israel’s soccer chiefs also expressed satisfaction at the resounding defeat — by a vote of 82% to 18% — of Rajoub’s proposal to suspend Israel from FIFA on the grounds of alleged human rights violations. Rajoub’s previous effort failed similarly in 2015, while a more recent proposal to sanction the IFA over the participation of clubs from the West Bank and Israel’s national league was also rejected.

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“This is a recurring ritual in which Rajoub attempts to lead FIFA decisions against our football and against the State of Israel,” IFA Chairman Ofer Eini said after the vote.

Praising FIFA as a “true friend,” Eini observed that as a consequence, “Rajoub fails time after time.”

“Israeli football will continue to be part of the international community and the State of Israel will continue to enjoy support in the world football association,” Eini said.

The cancellation of the match prevented Argentina’s national team from being sucked into a major political controversy on the eve of the World Cup — a competition the country lost to Germany in the last final, in 2014. While Rajoub was roundly condemned, many Israelis also expressed anger with government officials — most notably Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev — for insisting that the fixture, originally to have been played in Haifa, be moved to Jerusalem.

While there have been claims, not least from Rajoub himself, that the Argentine decision to cancel was a victory for the Palestinian effort to isolate Israel, there is little evidence to suggest that the players themselves were involved. A source described as being “close” to Messi told ESPN on Wednesday that the decision had been taken solely by Argentina’s Football Association.

“This was the AFA’s call,” the source was quoted as saying. “Lionel doesn’t cancel matches, Lionel doesn’t call up players, Lionel doesn’t name or remove managers. Lio only plays football.”

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