I joined the JLC in October 2013 from the world of football, where I had worked for the preceding 10 years. I never imagined just how much my previous career and my current role would overlap.
It started in December last year when Nicolas Anelka celebrated a goal for West Bromwich Albion by making the notorious “quenelle” gesture. It led to a charge by The FA against Anelka of making a racially aggravated “abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper gesture”, of which he was eventually convicted and suspended. I liaised with The FA on procedural issues, advised communal organisations on how best to respond during the investigation and ended up commenting widely on the verdict when it was delivered.
The same was the case in late 2014 when former Wigan Athletic Chairman, Dave Whelan, was charged by The FA with making racially aggravated offensive comments about Jewish people. Once again, my experience of such matters from within The FA enabled me to comment on behalf of the community.
Currently, there is an ongoing matter which is perhaps even more problematic. At the FIFA Congress at the end of May, attended by representatives from all 208 football associations around the world, there is a proposal, submitted by the Palestine FA, to suspend the Israel Football Association from FIFA. At the time of writing, this is on the Agenda for the meeting to be debated and voted upon. If it were to be passed, it would result in Israel being thrown out of world football, unable to play international matches, it’s clubs unable to compete in European competition and it would be stripped of the right to host the UEFA Under 19 Women’s Football Championship in July this year. It would result in humiliation for Israel.
It is the clearest, most visible threat of delegitimisation that I have encountered. And it is happening in a public and high profile environment.
I have therefore, with the agreement of the Israel FA, attempted to galvanise support firstly for keeping this proposal from being debated or voted upon, and to prevent it from being passed. I have written to FIFA, to former contacts in football Confederations and Associations around the world and am drawing public attention to the issue.
I have submitted the argument that, if the Israel FA were actually to be suspended by the FIFA Congress, it would have a devastatingly damaging impact upon the reputation of FIFA amongst the UK Jewish community and all those who abhor the delegitimisation of the State of Israel.
This is a politically motivated proposal. Even putting this matter to a vote risks bringing a complex and emotive international political conflict on to the floor of the FIFA Congress and to the heart of the International football family. Any debate on the matter would be controversial, and, even if the vote to suspend were not to be approved, the unity of the football family at the time of a Congress would be shattered, in a public and controversial manner.
Football has long been above international politics and has been able to provide hope and optimism in areas where there are international conflicts. In the long history of FIFA, through multiple international political disputes, the FIFA Congress has, I believe, never voted to suspend a member Association. During the Balkan conflict, the Afghan and Iraq wars, the Somalia conflict, the civil wars in Sudan and in the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, FIFA has kept itself above politics and has not taken steps that might favour one side or another in a political conflict.
If, in these circumstances, it were to debate and vote to suspend the IFA, having not done so in respect of any other Member Association, FIFA would be perceived to be unfairly discriminating against the State of Israel. That would be rightly seen as hugely discriminatory and prejudicial not just by the UK Jewish community, but by Jewish communities all round the world. It would tarnish the reputation of FIFA and bring criticism from Governments and Parliamentarians for allowing football to become embroiled in a complex international political dispute.
It should not be debated, let alone, brought to a vote. I have no idea whether these interventions will make any difference at all. But I am happy to use my experience of my previous career to try and help.