The New Israel Fund (NIF) has partnered with The Israel Football Association (IFA) to form a new campaign called “Kick Racism Out of Israeli Football“. The campaign was announced through the video “We’re all equal – we’re all one team”, that was released October 28, 2014, to “promote Israel’s national soccer teams (men, women, and youth) as a shining examples of equality, tolerance and coexistence.” The video is engaging and stars two children and a gaggle of notable Israeli football players.
However, back in reality, during the initial stages of this new partnership, and likely during the same timeframe this lovely video was produced, the IFA chose to segregate the Israeli children’s national football league in Israel’s Triangle area which is home to the majority of Israel’s Palestinian citizens.
Seriously, we don’t make this stuff up.
Last month Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel filed a petition with the court demanding IFA cancel their decision. Before exploring the blatant hypocrisy on display and the underlying reasons, recently revealed, which led the IFA’s discriminatory decision, check out Adalah’s press release:
On Tuesday, 21 October 2014, Adalah filed a petition to the Tel Aviv District Court on behalf of a family demanding the cancellation of the decision by the Israel Football Association (IFA) to divide the children’s national football league in the Al-Shomoron area (the Triangle area) into “Shomoron 1”, comprised of 12 Jewish teams and 2 Arab teams, and “Shomoron 2”, comprised of 13 Arab teams. The division effectively imposes segregation between Jewish teams and most Arab teams.
In the petition Adalah argued that the IFA’s decision runs contrary to previous years when Arab and Jewish teams in the same area were merged into the same leagues. The petition contended that segregation between children based on their national belonging delivers a negative message that Arab teams are unwanted and are not skilled enough to play with Jewish teams. This message is offensive to children and violates their right to equality with Jewish children. Additionally, Adalah demanded the enactment of equal and clear standards for the distribution of teams in children’s football leagues in different areas and districts.
Adalah petitioned the court on behalf of Attorney Muhammad Lutfi from Umm al-Fahem, who spoke to the IFA after discovering that the team on which his son plays, Maccabi Umm al-Fahem, was merged with a group consisting of Arab teams only, although in previous years they had played with teams from Jewish towns as well. For example, the teams for the towns of Iksal and Jisr az-Zarqa were incorporated into the same league as Maccabi Umm al-Fahem, although the towns are 50km away from each other. At the same time, teams from Jewish towns that are closer to the Arab towns instead play in another league.
Adalah Attorneys Sawsan Zaher and Muna Haddad stressed in the petition that the decision of the IFA to segregate the teams, even if only in certain areas, reinforces discrimination and prejudices against Arab citizens of Israel. Furthermore, the IFA’s decision to not distribute teams according to objective general standards, regardless of national belonging, will strengthen and perpetuate the lack of respect and lack of acceptance of others. This is particularly important in the matter of children’s sports, where it should not only teach children to be successful but to also teach them the values of mutual respect for different people. Attorneys Zaher and Haddad added that the IFA is subject to the principles of Israeli public law, which clearly prohibits segregation based on national or religious belonging or gender, in any area. This segregation negates the right to equality and dignity.
In its response on 22 October, the IFA hinted that the division of the teams was based on requests from Jewish families. The response stated that: “we will not contradict the desires of the clubs (regarding the divisions), and we will not force a child to play in a league that is not joyful for him/her and that does not help his/her professional development”. Judging from this response, it seems that the IFA preferred social considerations and the desires of Jewish families over the principle of equality between the teams. Adalah will continue to follow-up on this case.Case Citation: Civil Case 31842-14-10 Jad Mahajni v. The Israel Football Association
The IFA is state institution under the purview of the Israeli government’s Ministry of Culture and Sport. But apparently at the behest of some Jewish families who didn’t want their children playing sports with Palestinian-Israeli children, they will not “contradict the desires of the clubs”, even when the desires of Jewish families runs afoul of the law.
Curious if the New Israel Fund was aware its partners in this project had chosen a segregated solution for the children’s national football league in the Triangle region, a source in Israel contacted the NIF to ask if they were aware of the information reported by Adalah and how it would effect the partnership. This was the response of their contact at the NIF:
“There is close cooperation with the IFA in the struggle against racism and violence in the stadiums, which is a matter of the utmost importance, especially now. However, the Fund is not familiar with the issue of the youth leagues, and cannot assume responsibility for every IFA action. If there is truth to Adalah’s argument, we have no doubt that the matter will be handled in an appropriate manner”
After another year where the killing and maiming of Palestinian soccer players persists, the Israeli football association is under increasing international pressure demanding the expulsion of Israel from FIFA.
Red Card Israeli Racism (RCIR) has written a letter to FIFA president Sepp Blatter renewing the call to FIFA for suspension of IFA, and blasting IFA’s recent actions. Below is a portion of the text, read the full letter here.
It is an utter disgrace that, in the 21st century, a national children’s league should be organised along racial lines. Obviously, the IFA’s actions in Al Shomoron constitute an egregious breach of FIFA’s statutory prohibition of racism, and its statutory obligation to promote humanitarian values “particularly through youth and development programes”1.
It is notable that, in its submission to the Tel Aviv District Court, the IFA has stated quite candidly that it has acted in response to pressure from Jewish clubs and families. You will be aware that anti-Arab racism in Israel has reached unprecedented levels over recent months2. The IFA could have refused to bow to such pressures, instead it has chosen to participate in the current wave of hatred.
No wonder the IFA has been of so little help to the Palestine Football Association in its ongoing struggle against military oppression. It shares the racism that fuels the brutality.
We urge FIFA to take these steps:
suspend the IFA’s membership of FIFA at December’s Executive Committee meeting.
investigate the Israeli national children’s league thoroughly with regard to the prohibition on racism
The New Israel Fund may have “no doubt that the matter will be handled in an appropriate manner” but we sure don’t.
(Hat tip Ofer Neiman, Karen Platt)