Jakarta: After stormy protests over Israel's participation in the U-20 World Cup in Indonesia, FIFA canceled the draw for the tournament scheduled for next Friday in Bali between the qualified teams for the tournament that was scheduled to start on May 20.

FIFA's decision followed Indonesia's political and popular refusal to allow the Israeli national team to come to the country. Arya Sinolinga, a member of the executive board of the Indonesian Football Association, said that the reason for the cancellation was the non-participation of the Israeli side in the draw, while the FIFA regulation requires that all teams qualified for the finals of the competitions be represented, while no new date or other place has been set for the draw.

Sinolinga added that his country's host federation for this international competition seeks to face this situation so that Indonesia does not face any sanctions and does not become "built" on the international sports scene, and he is aware - as he says - the difficulty of separating sports and politics, pointing to the lack of clarity of the fate of this international competition, which Indonesia hosts for the first time in its history.

The Indonesian football official confirmed that contacts were being made with the presidency and his country's foreign and sports ministries "to save Indonesian football". The Indonesian official does not seem optimistic about the proposal that Israel play its matches in a neighboring country such as Singapore, because when Indonesia applied to host this competition, it did not submit a joint bid with another country.

Indonesian protests against Israel's participation in their country's World Cup (AP)

The hard decision

The Indonesian government finds itself in a difficult position politically and athletically, and has strived to win this hosting to enhance its standing on the international stage, but the Israeli team's qualification has left it facing a wave of political and popular rejection.

Eric Tahir, Minister of State Enterprises, who was elected just a few weeks ago to the presidency of the Indonesian Football Association, has stated that his country guarantees the security and safety of any team that arrives on Indonesian territory, and does not support linking sports with political reality, pointing to Indonesia's endeavor to host other international sports competitions in the future.

The cancellation of the draw came days after the governor of the Indonesian island of Bali, Ian Koster, sent a letter to his country's youth and sports minister, refusing the Israeli team to participate in the World Cup between May 20 and June 11, citing the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

This refusal came contrary to expectations, as the government chose the Hindu-majority island of Bali and the most open to foreign tourists to be the residence of the Israeli team in the competitions that were postponed in 2021 due to the Corona pandemic, among the 6 regions on which the matches will be distributed: Jakarta, West, Central and East Java, Bali and South Sumatra.

Major parties, including the ruling party, opposed hosting the Israeli team (Associated Press)

Previous positions

One of the first speakers on this matter was Hedayat Nur Wahid, Deputy Speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly, where he called on the Minister of Sports to work to refuse to attend the Israeli team, explaining that former President Ahmed Sukarno prevented his country from facing Israel in 1958 in the World Cup qualifiers, and did not invite the Israeli team to the Asian Games in 1962 in Jakarta, considering Sukarno's position on Palestine one of the reasons for his fame.

Wahid called on the Minister of Sports and the Indonesian Football Association to abide by what was stated in the speech of Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi at the United Nations earlier this year, where she called on the countries of the world to stand with the Palestinians and stop the humanitarian tragedies that befall them, and praised what Qatar has adopted during its hosting of the 2022 World Cup to preserve the values and principles to which its people are committed, with its remarkable success in organizing the tournament.

Normalization ban

Hedayat Nur Wahid noted the decision issued by Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on February 8, 2019 as a regulation regulating the foreign relations and international cooperation of elected local governments in Indonesian provinces, territories and cities.

Article 150 of the resolution stipulates that "to this day Indonesia has no diplomatic relations with Israel and opposes the occupation of Palestine. That is why Indonesia rejects all forms of relationship with it."

The ministerial decision – a copy of which was seen by Al Jazeera Net – explains a number of binding steps, most notably:

  • There is no official relationship between the Indonesian government and Israel at any level.
  • No letters appended with official seals between Indonesia and Israel.
  • No Israeli delegation is received in any form or in an official place.
  • The flag or emblem of Israel is not permitted, nor is its national anthem performed in Indonesian territory.

The resolution adds that "Israel's presence or presence does not reflect any official recognition of Israel, that the arrival of its citizens to Indonesia is on an ordinary passport, and that the visa is granted by the Immigration Department of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights with an affidavit through the Indonesian embassies in Singapore and Bangkok."

Street protests

During the past two weeks, Jakarta witnessed protests refusing to attend the Israeli team, and the opposition "Second of December" movement threatened that it would prevent the entry of the Israeli team from their country's airports, and the first protests were organized by popular and student forces in the city of Solo in the center of the Indonesian island of Java.

With the passage of time, the circle of rejection expanded to include parties from different spectrums, all of which demanded that the government negotiate with FIFA and inform it of the political and popular positions towards the presence of the Israeli team to the islands of Indonesia, and politicians in the ruling party "Party for Struggle for Democracy" led by Megawati Sukarno Potri - which is also the party of President Joko Widodo - rejected the participation of the Israeli team in the world championship.

Muhammadiyah and the Council of Scholars

Voices of rejection reached the Mohammedia Association, the country's largest civil society organization, which called on the government not to underestimate this as a sport, and to maintain harmony between football and state policies.

Muhyiddin Junaidi, Vice-Chairman of the Advisory Council of the Indonesian Ulema Council, said that hosting an Israeli team was sensitive for the Indonesian people, who are aware of the reality of the Israeli occupation for a long time to this day.