Israel’s battles in sports, law, and science

Sports. In early 2014, two young athletes, named Jawhar (then 19) and Adam (then 17), were returning from a soccer training session in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers ambushed them, shot them, set dogs on them to maul them, dragged them across the ground, and beat them. The Israeli soldiers targeted their feet and legs – ten bullets in 19-year old Jawhar’s feet, one bullet in each of 17-year old Adam’s feet. No more soccer for Jawhar and Adam (1).

So, now, Israel’s war on Palestinians is so comprehensive that it includes soccer. Jawhar and Adam are not unique for being targeted as Palestinian athletes. Sports writer David Zirin wrote about another player, Mahmoud Sarsak of the Palestinian national soccer team (2), who Israel seized on his way to a contest in 2009, and held without trial or charges for years. He was released after he went on a 92 day hunger strike in July 2012.

With such a determined, deliberate, violent campaign against soccer, Israel has generated some questions about its own status in the international soccer association, FIFA. Spurred on by the vicious attacks on Jawhar and Adam, as well as discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) led efforts to expel Israel from FIFA, and a motion was making its way to the 2015 international gathering of FIFA.

Then, in May, something happened. At the same time that FIFA was supposed to hear the motion on the expulsion of Israel for racism and its war on Palestinian soccer, the FBI moved against FIFA officials and arrested them for the corruption that FIFA has long been notorious for. Then the Palestinian Football Association amended the motion to expel Israel. Instead of expelling Israel, FIFA has struck a committee to ‘monitor’ Israel’s compliance with FIFA rules. Some commentators have argued that the the passage of the amended resolution was still a major loss for Israel (3). Others have argued that the PFA last-minute amendment was yet another betrayal of principles by the Palestinian Authority (4).

Was the timing of the FBI raids completely coincidental, or were the raids timed to show that the US could create consequences for FIFA for trying to expel Israel? Did the Palestinian Football Association back down from its principled stand because of pressure applied behind the scenes?

Law. Certainly, the PFA, which is affiliated with the Palestinian Authority (PA), has many vulnerabilities to US pressure, from anti-terrorism suits in US courts (5) to the ever-present threat of cutting off aid money (aid to the PA is a tiny fraction of the money given to Israel by the US, the “honest broker”). And of course the US need not pressure the PA directly: it has many levers of power to exercise to ensure Israel has its way with the Palestinians, including the UN Secretary General. Most recently, for example, Israel, after targeting children, and killing at least 547 children in Gaza in 2014, was taken off of a UN list of serious violators of children’s rights by Ban Ki Moon. The “list of shame” annex in the UN’s report on children in armed conflict is seen as an important “accountability tool” in the human rights community (6). If Israel can kill 547 children and not get on the UN’s “list of shame”, it is hard to take this as anything other than a green light from the UN for Israel to keep killing children. To get this green light for Israel, the US had to pressure the UN Secretary General directly. The PA had no say in the outcome.

But the PA has had a say in many issues, and failed to use it. From the ruling by the International Court of Justice against Israel’s apartheid wall in 2005, to the Goldstone Report, to the ICC bid, to the recent statehood bid at the UN, the PA has failed repeatedly to use effectively the many international forums that it has access to (7).

The recent threat at FIFA, and then retreat, by the PFA is a replay of the same behaviour by the PA at the ICC, over the Goldstone Report, the ICJ ruling, and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement more generally – the threat of an effective, principled move, followed just before the moment of truth by a retreat.

The number of these near-misses in recent years, of possibilities of breakthrough at the international level, even if followed by capitulation by the Palestinian Authority, suggests that there are real possibilities for the movement for human rights for Palestinians, the cutting edge of which is the BDS movement.

Israel’s prime minister Netanyahu certainly behaves as if he is afraid of these possibilities. This might be because Israel’s attempts to paint Iran as the great enemy was unsuccessful and Israel simply needs a new enemy to focus on constantly. Or it might be that Netanyahu and the Israeli establishment genuinely fear that Israel’s genocidal campaign towards the Palestinians will start to become politically costly at some point in the future. Netanyahu’s casino billionaire backer, Sheldon Adelson, told the Israeli-American Council in 2014 that Palestinians exist only to destroy Israel (8). The billionaire has been strategizing with others about how to deploy more money to combat BDS. There’s nothing new here. Israel’s violence and its supporters have always had many more billions than those seeking justice or peace in the region.

Medicine. Critics of BDS sometimes argue that boycott tactics are inherently immoral. But a group of pro-Israel academics don’t think it is: they were happy in April to threaten to boycott the eminent medical journal, The Lancet, because they didn’t like the peer-reviewed medical journal’s coverage of the medical consequences of Israel’s high-tech slaughter of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza in 2014 (9). Hundreds of other doctors and academics replied with the “Hands off the Lancet” letter (10).

It may be that, as Jonathan Cook argued over the Lancet affair: “Very gradually, the space to have an honest and critical debate about Israel is opening up in places where once it was almost impossible, including in the media, in academia and even among the conservative medical community. Those committed to protecting Israel at all costs are desperate to shut down those spaces.”

If the media, academia, sports, and medicine are all wondering whether Israel should be allowed to shoot and maim soccer playing youths, target and kill children and avoid censure, and avoid discussion even of the most basic public health consequences of its killings and its purposeful destruction of civilian infrastructure, there is one field in which Israel continues to shine, as Alex Kane reported in The Intercept on June 5 (11): the production of combat-proven weaponry, tested out on the Palestinian population and especially its children. But as with Sheldon Adelson’s billions, so too with weapons: Israel has always had the advantage in this arena. There is nothing new here.

When people stop making Israel an exception to their consciences, to their sense of fairness and of justice; when people start thinking of Palestinians as human beings deserving of rights and of Palestinian children deserving of safety even while they do things like play soccer; when that happens Israel’s advantages in billions and weapons won’t be enough.

When that happens, a just resolution of the conflict with equal rights for everyone will be possible.


1) Dave Zirin covered this at the time,, citing Maan News:

2) Dave Zirin, May 10, 2012. What if Kobe Bryant Were an Imprisoned Palestinian Soccer Player?

3) See Newsclick – FIFA: Israel Guilty of Systematic Racism Against Palestine.

4) Liad Osmo, “Palestinians rage at Rajoub for about-face on Israel FIFA suspension”, May 31, 2015.,7340,L-4663230,00.html. See also Sharif Nashashibi, “FIFA: Palestine’s own goal”, June 2, 2015.

5) Charlotte Silver, “New York Jury Finds Palestinian Authority Liable for Terrorism”. February 24, 2015.

6) Ali Abunimah, “UN’s Ban Ki-moon caves in, takes Israel off list of serious child abusers”. June 9, 2015.

7) Jalal Abukhater is important to read on this. See “The PA stands in the way of the Palestinian struggle”, July 12, 2014. Electronic Intifada:

8) Ha’aretz, November 9, 2014. “Sheldon Adelson: Palestinians are made-up nation that exists only to destroy Israel”.

9) Jonathan Cook, “Professors for Israel try to shut down the Lancet”. April 23, 2015:


11) Alex Kane, June 5, 2015. “Combat Proven”: The booming business of war in Israel.

First published on TeleSUR English:

Exchange on the Academic Boycott

by Justin Podur and Stuart Murray

On November 28, 2007, Ryerson University in Toronto held a debate on “Academic Boycott and Academic Freedom” in the context of Israel/Palestine. Justin Podur wrote an article on the debate ( and one of the debaters, Stuart Murray, replied. An exchange ensued, and we thought it would be interesting to publish the exchange as well.

Murray’s reply to Podur’s article:

Dear Justin,

Continue reading “Exchange on the Academic Boycott”

Me and Stuart Murray on the academic boycott

I sent my article on Ryerson’s academic boycott debate to the debaters and one of them, Stuart Murray, wrote me back. A quite friendly exchange of views ensued, which I thought was itself worth publishing on ZNet. Take a look. I found it (and Stuart) to be more productive and interesting than most such exchanges I’ve gotten into (and made you poor readers suffer).