Israelis keep pressure on FIFA to further sanction Palestine’s Rajoub over Messi comments

By Andrew Warshaw

June 13 – FIFA opened an investigation earlier this year into the outspoken head of the Palestinian FA, Jibril Rajoub, for breaching its ethics code according to an Israeli-based media watchdog and widely reported across Israel.

Palestinian Media Watch says Rajoub has been officially notified of the investigation though FIFA has declined to confirm this.

Last August, in a hard-hitting ruling that antagonised Raboub’s supporters but was viewed by others as a logical move, FIFA handed Rajoub a one-year match ban and fined him CHF20,000 for inflammatory remarks made against Lionel Messi.

Just before the World Cup in Russia, FIFA announced it was taking disciplinary action against the tub-thumping Rajoub after he called on fans to burn pictures and shirts of the Argentine superstar if he played in a warmup friendly against Israel in Jerusalem.

The fixture was originally scheduled for Haifa but Palestinian sympathisers were infuriated by Israel’s provocative decision to switch it to disputed Jerusalem and, specifically, to the Teddy Kollek Stadium which is built on land that, according to Palestinians, was a village destroyed in 1948.

Messi, Rajoub said at a June 3 press conference, “has tens of millions of fans in the Arab and Muslim countries… we ask everyone to burn their shirts which bear his name and posters.”

The match ultimately never took place when it was called off by Argentina’s own federation despite an appeal from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to his opposite number Mauricio Macri.

The FIFA investigation is reportedly based on evidence submitted by PMW back in May 2017 alleging Rajoub had breached FIFA’s code by promoting and glorifying terrorism; inciting hatred and violence; promoting racism; and preventing the use of the game of football in order to build a bridge for peace.

In a typically brief pro forma statement emailed to Insideworldfootball, FIFA said its ethics committee “does not comment on potential ongoing proceedings nor on whether or not investigations are underway into alleged ethics cases.”

But it is understood FIFA opened their inquiry in January this year and a leaked letter from chief ethics investigator Martin Ngoga, seen by Insideworldfootball and dated January 2019,  appears to confirm Rajoub is indeed under investigation and he is asked to respond, point by point, to PMW’s complaints.

“The Chairperson of the Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee has opened these investigation proceedings after having determined that, on the basis of a document and relevant evidence submitted by the organization Palestinian Media Watch entitled “KickTerror Out of Football … there is prima facie evidence that you may have committed violations of the Fifa Code of Ethics,” the letter said.

“To the extent that you dispute any part of the… complaint and allegations, you are hereby requested to submit a statement identifying every point in the complaint allegations that you dispute; an explanation of why you dispute each such point; a description of any and all additional facts you contend, clarify, contradict, or are otherwise relevant to the issue or point in dispute; and all documents, records, or data within your possession, custody, or control that support your position.”

Ngoga requested that Rajoub respond by January 18, in other words five months ago, but the nature of that response has not been made public.

Following the leak of the letter – not apparently by PMW but ironically to a pro-Palestinian media site, Electronic Intifada – PMW director Itamar Marcus said he welcomed FIFA’s inquiry.

“It is demeaning for FIFA to allow a terrorist supporter who uses vile racist language to have any position attached to FIFA’s good name,” Marcus said. “Instead of using the beautiful game to build bridges and promote peace and coexistence, Rajoub uses his position to incite violence and to promote and glorify terrorism.

“I am hopeful that FIFA will now, once and for all, permanently remove Rajoub from any position in FIFA, and cleanse this stain on international football.”

In response to the leaked letter, PFA Vice President Susan Shalabi declined to comment, stressing FIFA rules do not allow her to do so.

But she denounced PMW accusing the body of being totally biased and relying on “information from questionable sources.

“They are closer to the extreme right than the mainstream in Israeli society,” she told The Times of Israel. “The proceedings are based entirely on documents provided by this organization.”

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