Palestinian soccer head banned for inciting Messi hatred

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              FILE - In this Friday, May 29, 2015 file photo Jibril Rajoub, president of the Palestinian Football Association speaks during the 65th FIFA Congress held at the Hallenstadion in Zurich, Switzerland. FIFA has banned the head of the Palestinian Football Association from attending soccer games for a year for inciting hatred and violence toward Lionel Messi. Jibril Rajoub called on Arab soccer fans to burn Messi posters and shirts if he participated in an Argentina game in Israel in June. (Patrick B. Kraemer/Keystone via AP, File)
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FIFA has banned the head of Palestinian soccer from attending matches for a year for inciting hatred and violence toward Lionel Messi as part of a campaign to stop Argentina’s national team playing in Israel.

The FIFA disciplinary case against Palestinian soccer federation head Jibril Rajoub centered on statements he made to the media before Argentina abruptly abandoned the trip to Jerusalem for a game against Israel in June.

Rajoub “incited hatred and violence” by calling on “football fans to target the Argentinian Football Association and burn jerseys and pictures of Lionel Messi,” soccer’s governing body said.

Justifying canceling the game, Argentina Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said the players felt “totally attacked, violated” after images emerged of the team’s white and sky-blue striped jerseys stained with red paint that resembled blood following Rajoub’s comments.

FIFA imposed the minimum ban allowed in its disciplinary code for inciting hatred or violence. It prevents Rajoub from attending matches or engaging with the media at or near stadiums on matchdays for a year from Friday.

Rajoub, who is also head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, was fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,300).

The Palestinian Football Association said FIFA “rushed to condemn” Rajoub based on “non-neutral media reports.” He was filmed in June, saying in Arabic “we will target Messi and we will ask everyone to burn his t-shirt, his picture and to abandon him.”

Rajoub was not granted a hearing and his testimony was not considered by the disciplinary committee, the PFA said. The ban will apply for the 2019 Asian Cup in United Arab Emirates, which kicks off in January, and likely include the start of the 2022 World Cup qualifying program.

But Rajoub is able to continue running the federation and attend FIFA meetings. He has been a constant thorn in the side of soccer’s governing body as he tries to get sanctions imposed on Israel.

At the annual FIFA Congress, Rajoub regularly addresses soccer nations to demand Israel be punished for restricting movement of Palestinian players, and for forming teams in West Bank settlements.

Israel has rejected the Palestinian campaign as an attempt to politicize sports and has cited security concerns as the reason behind the occasional restrictions placed on Palestinian players, particularly in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Rajoub repeatedly used “threats and incitement” to advance a political agenda, said Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs and public security.

“International sports should be about bringing people together, not driving them apart,” Erdan said. “I call on the International Olympic Committee to suspend Rajoub as well.”

Israel’s plan to stage the Argentina game in Jerusalem also incensed Rajoub because the stadium that was to host the match is situated in a neighborhood built on the site of a former Palestinian village destroyed during the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948.

Palestinians claim the eastern sector of Jerusalem as their capital. Israel considers the entire city to be its capital after capturing east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.