Zurich, 29 May 2015 – Facing a pro-Palestinian demonstration of some 150 outside the FIFA Congress Hall in Zurich, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre was the only Jewish organization to present a counter-protest.
Supported by a few Christian friends of Israel, we sang Hatikva and “Am Israel Chaï.” The pro-Palestinians lunged forward, smashing my IPAD screen. Glass may crack but our position was unassailable.
The police ran between us, snatching our handkerchief-size Israeli pennants and fining an evangelical lady for wearing a tiny Star of David necklace.
We few Zionists were, apparently, the “provocateurs,” while, to background screams of “Zionism is Racism,” “Apartheid Israel,” the worlds‘ television cameras focussed on “Blattergate,” oblivious to the genocidal display behind them of terrorist wannabes.
The several associations combating racism in football – with which we have cooperated for years – sat out this new threshold of antisemitism in football. I felt as safe at FIFA as if I were sitting on the terraces of a recent Netherlands match to the cries of “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas!”
Luckily, the Wiesenthal Centre, as a human rights agency, was spontaneously invited by Solidar – the Swiss international workers‘ rights lobby – to join their demonstration against Qatar’s abuse of foreign labour (photo: Samuels on right of podium).
For the 209 Football Association delegates inside the Congress Hall, “Blattergate” and Palestinian mayhem were to take their course. At one moment, however, the turmoil outside invaded the proceedings as two screaming women rioters unfurled a Palestinian banner.
Finally, the law went after real “provocateurs,” politely escorting them to the exit.
The Palestinians may have withdrawn their demand for a vote to suspend Israel. This was a face-saving gesture as so many countries feared that such a vote would be a dangerous precedent for themselves.
At the end of the day, the hanging question remained: whether FIFA stood for “Football International Felony Association” or “Federation International for Football Antisemitism.” Either way, football has been tainted and now requires a root-canal treatment against both Mafia and racism.
Shimon Samuels is Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.