Uefa slaps down­bid to boy­cott Is­rael 2013

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page - BY MAR­CUS DYSCH

UEFA PRES­I­DENT Michel Pla­tini has re­jected calls to strip Is­rael of a high-pro­file foot­ball tour­na­ment and re­buked the Pales­tinian Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion for lob­by­ing against Is­rael.

Next year’s Euro­pean Un­der-21 Cham­pi­onship will go ahead as planned — de­spite what Mr Pla­tini called “a cer­tain amount of pres­sure be­ing put on us”.

In a strongly worded re­buke to the pres­i­dent of the Pales­tinian FA, Mr Plar­ini re­jected his de­mands and said that Uefa did not be­lieve in “pun­ish­ing peo­ple and iso­lat­ing them”.

Ac­tivists, i nclud­ing former Leeds and Manch­ester United player Eric Can­tona and former West Ham United and Tot­ten­ham striker Frédéric Kanouté, had joined the call on Uefa to move the tour­na­ment from Is­rael as a pun­ish­ment for the de­ten­tion of a num­ber of Pales­tinian foot­ballers with­out trial or charge.

Mr Can­tona wrote to Uefa claim­ing: “Racism, hu­man rights abuses and gross vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional law are daily oc­cur­rences in that coun­try.

“It is time to end Is­rael’s im­punity and to in­sist on the same stan­dards of equal­ity, jus­tice and re­spect for in­ter­na­tional law that we de­mand of other states.”

Mr Pla­tini re­jected the boy­cott calls in a let­ter to Is­rael FA chair­man Avi Lu­zon on Mon­day.

He wrote that Is­rael had “earned the right to host the com­pe­ti­tion through a fair, demo­cratic vote”.

The cam­paign cen­tred on the case of Pales­tinian na­tional team foot­baller Mah­moud Sarsak, who has been on hunger strike in an Is­raeli jail for three months.

He was de­tained with­out charge al­most three years ago on sus­pi­cion of be­ing an Is­lamic Ji­had mem­ber. A deal to end his hunger strike was agreed on Mon­day and he is likely to be re­leased next month.

Prior to that deal, Pales­tinian FA pres­i­dent Jib­ril Ra­joub had writ­ten to Uefa claim­ing Is­rael was “in di­rect vi­o­la­tion” of Fifa reg­u­la­tions. He wrote: “For ath­letes in Pales­tine there is no real free­dom of move­ment and the risks of be­ing de­tained or even killed are al­ways loom­ing be­fore their eyes.”

In re­sponse, Mr Pla­tini crit­i­cised Mr Ra­joub for leak­ing his com­plaint to the me­dia — a move he said was “ill-ad­vised”. “I was sur­prised to read in the press that you had writ­ten me a let­ter… I know you to be di­rect and frank, qual­i­ties which I greatly ap­pre­ci­ate, but which it seems not all your ad­vis­ers share.

“We can­not hold the Is­rael FA re­spon­si­ble for the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the re­gion or for le­gal pro­ce­dures in place in its coun­try. You know bet­ter than any­one that it is not by pun­ish­ing peo­ple and iso­lat­ing them that we achieve our aims. It is through di­a­logue that so­lu­tions are found.”

Mr Pla­tini said In­ter­na­tional

Olympic Com­mit­tee pres­i­dent Jacques Rogge and Fifa pres­i­dent Sepp Blatter sup­ported Uefa’s stance on Is­rael’s host­ing of the tour­na­ment.

Mr Pla­tini also re­vealed that he had asked Prince Ali Bin Al-Hus­sein of Jor­dan, a mem­ber of Fifa’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, to in­ter­vene in Mr Sarsak’s case.

Mr Lu­zon replied to Mr Pla­tini on Tues­day: “We ap­pre­ci­ate and thank you for your con­fi­dence in us and for your and Uefa’s sup­port and con­fi­dence in the Is­rael FA. We will never for­get that.”

The Is­rael FA chief said he had al­ready ap­proached rel­e­vant Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties in an at­tempt to raise con­cerns about Mr Sarsak’s sit­u­a­tion.

Is­rael beat Bul­garia, Czech Repub­lic, Eng­land and Wales to win the right to host the 2013 tour­na­ment – the un­der-21 ver­sion of the com­pe­ti­tion cur­rently be­ing played in Poland and Ukraine. It is likely to fea­ture some of the world’s lead­ing young players.

Mr Pla­tini’s in­ter­ven­tion came two days af­ter Is­rael’s women’s side was bar­racked by pro­test­ers dur­ing a match in Ed­in­burgh.

On Satur­day, the Is­raelis played Scot­land’s women in a qual­i­fy­ing match for Uefa’s 2013 Women’s Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships at Hearts’ Tynecas­tle Sta­dium.

Among the 817 peo­ple in the stands was a group of around 200 anti-Is­rael pro­test­ers, who booed the Is­raelis’ ev­ery touch and chanted anti-Is­rael slo­gans for the du­ra­tion of the match. The Is­raeli na­tional an­them was also booed be­fore kick-off.

When asked be­fore the game about the in­tended protests, Scot­tish Pales­tine Sol­i­dar­ity Cam­paign chair­man Mick Napier had re­fused to say whether the group would launch a pitch in­va­sion, lead­ing Uefa of­fi­cials and Hearts to bring in ex­tra police and security mea­sures in an ef­fort to en­sure the pro­test­ers did not cause fur­ther dis­rup­tion.

Is­rael lost 8-0 and is bot­tom of its qual­i­fy­ing group, hav­ing lost ev­ery game in the com­pe­ti­tion.

De­fender Diana Rad­man crit­i­cised Uefa for al­low­ing po­lit­i­cal protests inside the sta­dium dur­ing the game.

“I knew be­fore we came that there would be protests and some­thing would hap­pen, but at pre­vi­ous games the of­fi­cials did not al­low pro­test­ers into the game. Uefa needs to act on this sort of abuse,” she said.

“There were players on both sides who were af­fected. It was not an easy ex­pe­ri­ence. We were up­set. This would never hap­pen with the men. If any­thing hap­pens in the sta­dium at a men’s in­ter­na­tional, then peo­ple are re­moved and the as­so­ci­a­tions are fined”.

“It is hard enough get­ting peo­ple to come to watch women’s foot­ball. The protests are very dam­ag­ing. In France we had peo­ple in­vade the pitch.”

Ms Rad­man said her team-mates had not con­sid­ered walk­ing off the pitch as the abuse con­tin­ued. “As players, we will play no mat­ter what. But af­ter the game I wanted to get to the locker-room quickly. We should not have to worry about things that are po­lit­i­cal; we just want to play.”

There were fur­ther protests when Is­rael played Wales’ women’s team in Wrex­ham on Wed­nes­day evening.

Mem­bers of the Wrex­ham Peace and Jus­tice Fo­rum had called on the Welsh players to boy­cott the match, and in­voked Is­rael’s security bar­rier to en­cour­age fans to imag­ine Wrex­ham sep­a­rated by an eight-foot-high wall.

Fol­low­ing a demon­stra­tion out­side the Race­course Ground, stew­ards and police stopped a num­ber of pro­test­ers en­ter­ing the sta­dium be­fore kick off. Oth­ers were evicted dur­ing the game, which Is­rael lost 5-0.

PHOTO:E. SHTERN

In a con­tro­ver­sial visit to Is­rael, the Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin will un­veil a mon­u­ment to wartime Red Army veter­ans in Ne­tanya on Mon­day, mark­ing the war ef­forts of more than 500,000 Rus­sian Jews

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