In an embarrassing blow to the anti-Israel boycott, divest and sanctions campaign, Eden Hazard has become the latest high profile footballer to deny any connection to a dubious statement calling for UEFA to strip Israel of hosting duties for next year's European under-21 football championship.
Hazard's manager, John Bico, confirmed that his client did not support the petition. "Eden never speaks about his political opinions and he certainly never signed anything." he said. The statement came after Hazard's club, Chelsea FC, queried Hazard's involvement in the petition.
Former Chelsea striker, Didier Drogba and Newcastle United's French midfielder, Yohan Cabaye, whose names also appeared on the petition, also denied any connection to it.
"I did not sign this petition or give my support to this initiative," Drogba said. "I have never got involved in any conflicts, even in my own country." Cabaye was equally emphatic in disavowing the campaign. "Yohan Cabaye has never desired any way whatsoever to give a political message in this action," he said.
The orchestrator of the campaign appears to be former Tottenham and West Ham forward, Frederic Kanoute, who posted the list of signatories on his personal website along with a statement accusing Israel of "stain[ing] the world's conscience" and suggesting that Israel "kills children while they play football." The statement omitted any reference to Palestinian terror groups or Hamas's role in the recent escalation in Gaza.
In response to the growing number of footballers who have firmly distanced themselves from the statement and asked for their names to be removed, Kanoute issued a further statement claiming that "some people" are trying to silence the footballers over the issue.
While the petition has been largely discredited, it nevertheless raises a great number of questions.
Assuming mixing sport and politics is a good idea and boycotting a country's sporting institutions is a legitimate means of registering one's opposition to the political decisions of that country's government, why start and stop with Israel?
Will Frederic Kanoute and any other actual signatories to the petition call for Qatar to be stripped of the 2022 World Cup after it was suggested that homosexuals would not be welcome in the country during the tournament?
Will they attempt to boycott Russia's staging of the 2018 World Cup in light of that country's continued repression of opposition movements and alleged use of overwhelming force in campaigns against Chechnya, Dagestan and Georgia?
Or perhaps China's membership to FIFA should be reviewed given Beijing's staunch denial of Tibetan national aspirations?
No signatory to the petition or its backers in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has offered any answers to these questions. Instead, they have reacted to what they see as Israeli 'collective punishment' of Gaza for electing and supporting the Hamas regime by attempting to collectively punish the people of Israel by denying them the right to host a football tournament.
Meanwhile, Kanoute's allusion to nefarious forces intervening on the side of the Jewish state is predictable but wholly misplaced. In fact, UEFA has confirmed that it is the Palestinians and their backers who are exerting their influence, not the Israelis. UEFA President Michel Platini has complained of "a certain amount of pressure" being applied on him to strip Israel of the tournament despite the fact that Israel "earned the right to host the competition through a fair, democratic vote."
Calls for Israel to lose its hard earned right to host the tournament are typical of a broader campaign aimed at isolating Israel by targeting any Jewish citizen of the state regardless of their political persuasion, or how far removed they are from political decision making. The UK performances of Tel Aviv's Habima theatre and Batsheva dance troupe were repeatedly disrupted by protestors. The Covent Garden branch of the Dead Sea cosmetics brand, Ahava was forced to shut after weekly protests outside their store for a period of two years.
Leaving aside the fact that those participating in such protests invariably possess a distorted, myopic view of the conflict, the act of boycotting and harassing Israeli entrepreneurs, artists and dancers because of objections to Israeli government policy is akin to driving a Lebanese restaurant out of business because of Hezbollah's terrorist activities.
In spite of this, Frederic Kanoute and any authentic signatories to the petition have wittingly or unwittingly lent their support to the anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. This became all the more apparent after Kanoute revealed that he did not actually draft the statement that appeared on his website but that he "received [it] from friends." Perhaps Kanoute's friends recognised the benefit of adding a little star power to their manipulative campaign.
Despite the determination of the anti-Israel lobby to attack the Jewish state through whatever means available to them, Michel Platini's response has been steadfast and admirable. "We cannot hold the Israel Football Association responsible for the political situation in the region," he said. "It is not by punishing people and isolating them that we achieve our aims, it is through dialogue that solutions are found." Writing to Israel Football Association chairman, Avi Luzon, after the Palestinians lobbied the Frenchman to strip Israel of the tournament, Platini confirmed, "the 2013 European Under-21 Championship will indeed take place in Israel."
Alex Ryvchin is a lawyer, writer and founder of opinion website, The Jewish Thinker (www.jewishthinker.org).
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