Over the last few weeks, Israeli politicians and media have suddenly woken up to the Palestinian Football Association's demand that the FIFA Congress vote on expelling Israel from world football. In typical fashion, this is now being treated as an existential matter - as if a temporary suspension could spell the end of the Zionist endeavour.
- Maybe FIFA can still bring peace to the Middle East?
- How BDS helps Bibi and his useless ministers
- Israel offers concessions in bid to avert vote to oust it from FIFA
This is of course patently ridiculous; both the national team and Israeli clubs routinely fail to reach the upper stages of the major international tournaments anyway. Actually, the Palestinian motion being passed on Friday afternoon in Zurich could be a positive development for Israel. Here are six reasons why.
1. Those who love both Israel and football, like this writer, can't avoid the conclusion that Israeli football routinely brings out the worst in both. I try to avoid watching Israeli Premier League matches on television but when I inadvertently happen to pass a screen broadcasting a match, I have to check for a few seconds to make sure it's not a slow-motion replay. Off the pitch the level of low politics, skulduggery and incompetence in the management of "top" teams and the national association make the Knesset look like the House of Lords. And I haven't even mentioned the racism. Maybe the shock of suspension is just what Israeli football needs.
2. The blatant racism of Beitar Jerusalem, the team supported by the president and prime minister, which as a matter of policy has never fielded an Arab player, where fascist chanting and signs are de rigueur, is an indelible stain on my hometown and on the rest of Israeli football, which routinely makes do with minor slaps of the wrist. I know that the majority of Beitar supporters are unhappy with this situation and that racism is a dismal reality in many footballing countries, but that's no excuse. Perhaps being kicked out of FIFA will finally spur the authorities to tackle the issue.
3. With allegations of rampant corruption and investigations of bribe-taking proceeding already on three continents and likely to spread, being kicked out of FIFA at this stage is a badge of honor. If President Sepp Blatter hangs on to his rancid rule over the rotten organization, every decent democratic nation will be soon leaving FIFA, leaving it the football association of Putin's Russia and other assorted dictatorships. Israel will become a founding member of a new and cleaner world football federation.
4. No one will be hugely surprised if the criminal investigations very soon finger Blatter as well. The globe-trotting president may soon be spending his time helping the Swiss police with their enquiries. In this outcome the last country to host Blatter with all the trappings of a state visit will have been Israel. Blatter was here last week, promising to find a compromise leaving both Israelis and Palestinians happy. The man who delivered the World Cup final to Qatar, a country with no footballing tradition and fifty degrees Celsius in summer can probably do anything, but who wants to be in his debt?
5. Thirty years ago, 39 Juventus supporters were killed in the Heysel Stadium disaster at the European Cup final against Liverpool. English teams were suspended for five years from European-wide tournaments until the British government finally managed to get the hooliganism - which had blighted the sport - under control. Looking back, that suspension was one of the better things to happen to football in its homeland. If Israeli football is forced to focus inwards, without any international delusions of grandeur, it will probably be for the best as well.
6. A suspension of Israel from FIFA will certainly be celebrated as a great victory for the BDS movement. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having failed to create more than the slightest dent in Israel's financial and cultural exports and only winning votes in ineffectual students' unions and unfashionable churches, BDS will have proved that it can only isolate Israel in the most corrupt dictatorial international forums where votes are routinely up for sale. Hardly a feather in their cap.