US Attacks FIFA Just Days Before Vote on Israeli Suspension from the League

By Richard Edmondson

Is the US prosecution of FIFA politically motivated? If so, the message being transmitted isn’t very subtle.

That’s Loretta Lynch, America’s brand new attorney general (she was sworn in exactly one month ago today) announcing indictments on corruption charges against officials with FIFA, the international soccer federation, or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association  if you prefer a fleshing out of the French acronym.

“This Department of Justice is determined to end these practices, to root out corruption and to bring wrongdoers to justice,” says Lynch.

Root out corruption? The US Justice Department still has not sent a single Wall Street executive to jail in connection with the 2008 financial crisis. In fact, back on February 17 of this year, Eric Holder, the former attorney general, announced that his department would determine within 90 days whether or not file charges against individual executives with the largest banks for actions taken pertaining to the collapse. That deadline passed on May 18 without a single indictment being announced.

Now we have the Justice Department patting themselves on the back over prosecutions of members of a football association. Are these people really put out with FIFA because of insufficient numbers of soccer fields built for children in developing countries, as Lynch alludes to in the above video? Or is there something else behind these indictments?

Lynch’s press conference comes just two days before FIFA is scheduled to hold its annual congress in Zurich. One of the items up for consideration at the congress is a vote on whether or not to suspend Israel from the association. If two thirds of the organization’s members vote in favor of the suspension, Israel will be barred from competing.

The measure has been introduced by the Palestinian Football Association and stems from a number of grievances including arrests of Palestinian football players and limitations on their movement between Gaza Strip and the West Bank. And on January 31 of this year,two players were critically injured by gunfire from Israeli soldiers as they were on their way home from a practice in al-Ram, in the central West Bank.

Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17, were both shot repeatedly and then beaten, and have been told by doctors they will never play football again.

Of course the possibility of the Jewish state being suspended from the world football association has caused angst in Israel and among its supporters. Here is what an article by the JTA says on the subject (emphasis added):

Soccer is Israel’s most popular sport, and though Israel qualified for a World Cup tournament only once, in 1970, Israeli soccer teams frequently travel abroad for matches. Coming amid growing economic, academic and cultural boycott efforts against Israel, expulsion from international competition in the world’s most popular sport would be a sharp blow for everyday Israelis.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has been lobbying governments to oppose the motion on the grounds that it’s a political dispute unrelated to soccer. Shlomi Barzel, the Israeli Soccer Association’s head of communications, told JTA that “Even the biggest Israel-hater in the world understands this has a political basis; it’s not relevant.”

In addition to indictments, the US is also seeking to have FIFA officials extradited from Switzerland. Moreover, the attack seems to be a concerted one, with mainstream media piling on about FIFA “corruption.”

“FIFA has been regularly accused of bribery and kickbacks, allegations that reached a fever pitch after it awarded Russia and Qatar the World Cup in 2018 and 2022, respectively,” said CNN in an article published today. “Afterward, the group carried out its own internal investigation and cleared itself.”

FIFA President Sepp Blatter is not one of the 14 people indicted today. Blatter has opposed the suspension, but he has also asked Israel to make “concessions” to the Palestinians, and the controversy is expected to severely jeopardize his chances of winning election to a fifth term as FIFA president.

You can go here to access a series of video reports about a trip Blatter made to Israel earlier this month in which he met with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. According to one of the reports, Blatter attempted to talk Abbas into having the Palestinian Football Association to drop its case against Israel.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a statement likening the move toward an Israeli suspension from FIFA to “the ‘Kaufen nicht bei Juden’ boycott of Jewish stores across Nazi Germany in the 1930′s.”

The timing of these indictments, just two days before the FIFA Congress, is extremely suspicious. Being kicked out of FIFA would be another major blow to Israel’s rapidly disintegrating “legitimacy,” and given the US government’s long history of providing diplomatic cover for Israel at the UN, the possibility of a political motivation for today’s actions by the Justice Department cannot be dismissed so easily.

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