Jerusalem (AFP) – FIFA said Thursday it has started disciplinary proceedings against the Palestinian Football Association’s chief, after he called for protest against Lionel Messi and his plan to play with Argentina in Jerusalem.
“The FIFA disciplinary committee has opened disciplinary proceedings against the president of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub,” a spokesman for the world body said in a statement to AFP.
Its decision, he wrote, “came as a result of his statements, widely reported in the media, with respect to the international friendly match that was scheduled to take place on 9 June 2018 between Israel and Argentina.”
He said he could not elaborate while the proceedings were ongoing.
Rajoub had demanded that the Barcelona star not take part in the pre-World Cup friendly against Israel and called on fans to burn shirts bearing his name if he did.
Messi, Rajoub said at a June 3 press conference, “has tens of millions of fans in the Arab and Muslim countries… we ask everyone to burn their shirts which bear his name and posters (with his image).”
The sold-out game was originally meant to be held in Haifa but was moved to Jerusalem by Israel’s right-wing sports minister, Miri Regev, sparking Palestinian protests.
Palestinians claim the eastern part of Jerusalem, annexed by Israel, as the capital of their future state. Israel considers the entire city its own, “indivisible” capital.
Palestinians were outraged at US President Donald Trump’s decision in December to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, breaking with decades of policy, and move his country’s embassy to the disputed city.
The embassy opened on May 14, fanning Palestinian anger and intensifying protests on the Gaza border, with at least 61 Gazans killed in clashes with Israeli forces that day.
On June 5 Argentina said it was pulling out of the game. Argentine FA president Claudio Tapia spoke of unspecified “threats” to the team.
Pro-Palestinian activists protested outside the Argentine World Cup training ground in Barcelona, brandishing an Argentine team jersey smeared with red paint meant to signify blood.
Last week the Israel Football Association said it would file a complaint to the world football body accusing Rajoub of pressuring Argentine players and officials staff into cancelling.
Rotem Kamer, vice-president of the Israeli FA, has accused Rajoub of “football terror”.
The association’s chairman, Ofer Eini, said in a statement Thursday that Rajoub had “crossed each and every red line”.
The Palestinian soccer chief has long demanded FIFA sanctions against Israel, which has six league teams based in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.