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Monday, April 30, 2012

Mounting Israeli soccer violence reflects fading hope in Palestinian peace


Israeli soccer violence spiralling out of control

By James M. Dorsey

A stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, a dwindling number of Palestinians participating in non-governmental reconciliation efforts and increased racism in Israeli soccer constitute two sides of the same coin: fading hope and interest in peace, hardening battle lines and a resurgence of racism on both sides of the divide.

Yet, the measures being discussed to curb mounting violence on and off the pitch threaten to reduce political and social issues to a problem of law enforcement as the heads of Israel’s 16 premier league club meet to debate how to cope with a situation that is spiralling out of control. The solution to Israel’s soccer violence no doubt involves law enforcement, but a crackdown and harsher penalties are unlikely to restore faith in future Israeli-Palestinian coexistence or mitigate the brutalizing effect on Israeli society of 45 years of occupation of Palestinian land.

Granted, the heads of Israel’s top soccer clubs lack the power to address the larger political and social issues. Their inability to influence political and security decisions has become evident over the past year in what Palestinian soccer officials say is the inability of Israeli sports officials to even ease the restrictions on travel imposed on Palestinian athletes in the West Bank and Gaza. A hotline established last year between the Israeli and Palestinian Olympic committees to tackle such issues has so far produced little results.

"The problem is the Israeli committee is not the relevant authority for the movement of people and equipment. We are trying, but I don't want to embarrass anyone," said Jibril Rajoub, who heads both the Palestinian Football Association and Olympic Committee, in an interview last year.

Nonetheless, there are things the Israeli soccer federation can do to counter an environment of increased polarisation and racially motivated violence in the absence of political will among both Israeli and Palestinian political elites to definitively tackle big ticket issues involved in peace such as settlements, refugees, borders and the future of Jerusalem.

The Israeli Football Association (IFA) and the heads of soccer clubs need to come to grips with two types of albeit inter-related violence: racially-motivated aggression against Palestinians and those that empathise with their cause and violence involving only Jewish players and fans. Their response to inter-Jewish violence is clear.

"The first thing to do is significantly increase the punishments. I have been talking about this for more than 20 years, and that was a time football was much more violent," the Associated Press quoted Maccabi Haifa Chairman Jacob Shahar as saying.

Less clear is their response to mounting Israeli-Palestinian soccer tension. " The field has become a battleground, involving not only fans but also players, coaches, officials ... it is impossible to stay silent," Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat told a recent press conference after being instructed by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to put an end to the violence.

Messrs. Livnat and Shahar were speaking after a series of incidents in which players and fans clashed on the pitch and notoriously racist supporters of Beitar Jerusalem, a club historically linked to Israel’s right-wing attacked Palestinian shoppers and workers in a mall as well as later a Jewish woman who protest against their racist attitudes. Beitar Jerusalem is the only Israeli club that has never hired a Palestinian player, who are among Israel’s highest scorers.  In response to Beitar Jerusalem chants of ‘Death to the Arabs,’ Palestinian supporters of Israeli Palestinian clubs like Bnei Sakhnin have begun singing ‘Death to the Jews.’

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Bnei Sakhnin supports chant 'Death to the Jews'

Writing in Soccer & Society, Israeli sports scholar Amir Ben-Porat warned already four years ago that “the football stadium has become an arena for protest: political, ethnic, nationalism, etc… ‘Death to the Arabs’ has thus become common chant in football stadiums… Many Israelis consider the Israeli Arabs (Palestinians) to be ‘Conditional Strangers,’ that is temporary citizens… Contrary to conventional expectations, these fans are not unsophisticated rowdies, but middle-class political-ideological right-wingers, whose rejection of Arab football players on their team is based on a definite conception of Israel as a Jewish (Zionist) state,” Mr. Ben-Porat wrote.

The IFA, despite being the only soccer body in the Middle East to have launched a campaign against racism, has allowed what Mr. Ben-Porat describes as ‘permissive territory’ that in which “some deviant behaviours are tolerated (such as using profanities) as long as definite rules are followed (that is, no racist chants)” to get out of hand.

The IFA has signalled a lack of sincerity by failing to impose its anti-racism rule by cracking down as hard on racism as it intends to do on what amounts to hooliganism. Forcing Beitar Jerusalem to drop its ban on Palestinian players, a violation of Israeli equal opportunity laws, and severely penalizing it for its fan behaviour rather than simply giving the club a slap on its knuckles while also taking Bnei Sakhnin to task for the behaviour of its fans would go a long way to tackling the issue of mounting racism on the pitch.

It would also send a signal to Israelis and Palestinians at a time that Palestinians are increasingly less inclined to engage with Israelis in the belief that reconciliation efforts are senseless as long as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is stalemated. An IFA crackdown on racism would to some degree counter Palestinian claims that there is no partner in Israel amidst the violence employed by Israeli security forces against protesters on the West Bank and anti-Palestinian statements by Israel’s ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Israeli peace activists warn that waning Palestinian interest in people-to-people encounters with Israelis threaten to undermine what is left of Israel’s already weakened peace movement. While peace may be beyond the IFA’s purview, a serious crackdown on racism would not only serve to counter what is an increasingly ugly trend in Israeli society but like the hotline signal that there are Israeli institutions that are willing to play their part.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

JMD on ABC: Bahrain F1 + Egypt

video

Monday, April 23, 2012

Conflicting visions of society spark Israeli and Egyptian soccer violence

Israeli soccer violence - reflection of a brutalized society

By James M. Dorsey

Fan violence has sparked match cancellations on both sides of the Arab-Israeli divide.
The stakes for Egyptian and Israeli soccer fans are high – the nature of the society they want to live in and in some cases the very existence of some of their financially troubled clubs – even if the two groups are likely to agree on little more than their passion for the game.

For militant Egyptian soccer fans the battle is about securing the goals of last year’s popular uprising that toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, ending military rule and saving clubs from financial ruin as a result of initial suspension and ultimate cancellation of Egypt’s top two tournaments. A majority of Egyptian fans, who favor a more pro-Palestinian Egyptian foreign policy, have little empathy for their Israeli counterparts whom they see as thugs, many of whom are racists with their anti-Arab and anti-Muslim chants attitudes.
The Egyptian view is not unfounded even if leaders of the Egyptian ultras – militant, highly politicized, street battle-hardened fan groups modeled on similar organizations in Italy and Serbia – are struggling to keep their rank and file whose cry for dignity is often expressed in clashes with security forces under control.

Israeli soccer brawls over the past month ranged from pure hooliganism and violent clashes between players to attacks on Palestinians and more moderate Jews outside the confines of the stadium. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday called for a crackdown on violence on the soccer field, after fighting broke out on Friday between players of Hapoel Ramat Gan and Bnei Lod. "If there's violence, there will not be soccer. We must uproot this violence in order to return to games that spectators can enjoy, myself among them,” Mr. Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting according to The Jerusalem Post.
The incident in Ramat Gan followed thousands of Hapoel Tel Aviv fans rioting on the pitch after their team lost to Maccabi Tel Aviv. A few days later, two fans of Maccabi Petach Tikvah attempted to attack a referee. In late March a Hapoel Haifa player was hospitalized after being headbutted by a Maccabi Petach Tikvah coach and then kicked in the head by a team associate. The two most onerous incidents involved militant anti-Arab fans of financially troubled Beitar Jerusalem, Mr. Netanyahu’s notorious club, in which supporters first attacked Palestinian workers and shoppers in a Jerusalem mall and later a Jewish woman who protested against their racist attitude. Police were severely criticized for failing to intervene in the mall attack.

The situation in nationalist Israel and post-Egypt could not be more different the laxity of the Israeli police notwithstanding. Yet, they are similar when it comes to the lack of political will on both sides of the Egyptian-Israeli divide to tackle soccer violence as well as governments’ failure to create an environment in which politically motivated violence is viewed as unacceptable. To be sure, the Israeli Football Association (IFA) has responded firmly to player violence but despite being the only soccer body in the Middle East and North Africa to have launched an anti-racist campaign has been lenient in meting out punishments for politically motivated violence.
The IFA last month significantly reduced Beitar's punishment for soccer violence from three home games out of town and one behind partly closed doors to on the grounds that the measure would not change fan behavior. With  the worst disciplinary record in Israel’s Premier League, Beitar has faced since 2005 more than 20 hearings and has received various punishments, including point deductions, fines and matches behind closed doors because of its fans’ racism.

Beitar’s matches often resemble a Middle Eastern battlefield. It’s mostly Sephardic fans of Middle Eastern and North African origin, revel in their status as the bad boys of Israeli soccer. Their dislike of Ashkenazi Jews of East European extraction rivals their disdain for Palestinians. Supported by Israeli right wing leaders, Beitar traces its roots to a revanchist Zionist youth movement. Its founding players actively resisted the pre-state British mandate authorities. Beitar is Israel’s only leading club never to have signed an Israeli Palestinian player because of fan pressure despite the fact that Palestinians are among the country’s top players.
By contrast, Egyptian teams already reeling from the cancellation of the Premier League in February following the death of 74 fans in a brawl in the Suez Canal city of Port Said fear financial disaster as a result of Sunday’s looming annulment of the Egypt Cup. The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) has appealed to the country’s military rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), to step in after a refusal by the interior ministry, which controls the police and the security forces. The refusal was prompted by the security forces’ reluctance to engage with deeply hostile, militant soccer fans because clashes would further damage their already tarnished image as the executioners of the former Mubarak regime and the military.

The military and the police have done little in the 14 months since Mubarak’s departure to polish the image of the security forces by projecting a willingness to reform the police, holding officers accountable for their actions and being seen to investigate the Port Said incident that allows the chips to fall where they fall. The trial against 61, people including fans and nine security officials, accused of responsibility for Port Said was suspended at its opening last week after disruptions by family and friends of the dead.
Police reform is a tough pill to swallow for the Egyptian military. The military “find themselves in a classic Catch-22 situation with regards to police reform. If they listen to the aspirations of the people and fully reform the police, they lose a valuable tool of state control. Should reform take place, where would the buck stop? Real reform in state institutions might later have personal ramifications for SCAF itself, as Egyptians are already calling for civilian control over the military, which may lead to investigations of the military junta down the line. On the other hand, should SCAF choose not to fully reform the police, they risk continued clashes with the people, who no longer fear the police - and consider it one of the last remaining bastions of the old regime,” said Adel Abdel Ghafar, a PhD scholar at the Australian National University and scion of a prominent Egyptian soccer figure, writing on Al Jazeera.com.

Granted, the Israeli police does not have the problems of their Egyptian counterpart. But if the stakes in Egypt are a more transparent, more accountable society, in Israel they are the very democracy that the Jewish state prides itself on, which increasingly is less based on tolerance and respect for diverging opinions and ethnic and religious minorities and ever more so on intolerance and the brutalizing effects of 45 years of occupation of Palestinian lands.
Violence in Israel is not limited to the soccer pitch. A senior Israeli military officer was celebrated by Israel’s right wing after attacking on camera a bicycle protester on the West Bank on camera in the same week as the Ramat Gan incident. Youths on a Tel Aviv beach taunted and abused a mentally disturbed woman inviting her to have sex with them.

The battles in Egypt and Israel are fought on multiple battlefields of which soccer is an important one. That puts the onus not only on governments but also on soccer associations, club management and last but not least world soccer body FIFA, which so far for all practical matters has looked the other way by at best issuing lame protests that Israelis and Egyptians can ignore because there is no price to pay.
With an inept military more concerned about its perks than the country’s future in charge in Egypt and an Israeli government that includes many Beitar Jerusalem supporters, little can be expected beyond at best demands for law enforcement from the highest authority in the country.

That means that the national soccer federations, FIFA and the regional associations, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and the Confederation of African Football (CAF), more than ever need to step up to the plate.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Soccer meets politics at Doha’s Mohammed Abdul Wahhab Mosque (Play the Game)_


Qatar’s increasing engagement in European soccer and international sport is just
one leg in the small Gulf State’s high-risk attempts to position itself as a global player
‘on the right side of history’. But the accompanying social and political changes also
spark local opposition in a conservative culture, James M. Dorsey writes in his second
analysis on the Gulf State’s growing influence in international sport.



20 April 2012


Mohammed Abdul Wahhab Mosque in Doha. Photo: Omar Chatriwala/Flickr

A multi-domed, sand-coloured, architectural marvel, Doha’s newest and biggest
mosque, symbolizes both Qatar’s bold storm into the 21st century and the pitfalls
that that march entails. It’s not the mosque itself that raises eyebrows but its
naming after an 18th century warrior priest, Sheikh Mohammed Abdul Wahhab,
the founder of Islam’s most puritan sect

Ironically, the mosque owes its naming to the debate Qatar’s winning of the right to
 host the 2022 World Cup has sparked. It is a debate that goes to the heart of the
energy-rich Gulf state’s identity and the place its ruler, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al
Thani, wants to carve out for his tiny city-state. 

The World Cup constitutes a centrepiece of a strategy that seeks to reshape the
identity of the world’s only state outside of Saudi Arabia that adheres to
Wahhabism, one of Islam’s most austere and restrictive interpretations of Islam;
position Qatar as a global player capable of punching above its weight; create
opportunities to leverage its enormous wealth in a bid to reduce its reliance on
the export of one commodity; and enhance its security by establishing mutually
beneficial relations with friend and foe and ensuring that it is at the cutting edge
of history.

The sports leg of Qatar’s broader, high-risk geo-political, economic and media
strategy – involving the creation of a world class airline, Qatar Airways; Al
Jazeera as a cutting edge global broadcaster; a far more liberal interpretation of
Wahhabism than that of Saudi Arabia and support for many of the popular uprisings
sweeping the Middle East and North Africa – is emerging as a driver of imminent
restructuring of the region’s soccer landscape as well as of social change. 

To achieve his goal, Emir Hamad has embarked on a buying spree of European soccer
assets such as Paris Saint Germain and top league European broadcast rights as well
as big ticket sponsorship agreements with the likes of FC Barcelona and the Tour de
France, multiple bids for the hosting of international sports tournaments and the
construction of world class infrastructure at a cost of tens of billions of dollar.

The strategy, which has exposed Qatar to an unprecedented degree of international
scrutiny, has already succeeded in putting Qatar with a population of some 1.7 million
of which some two thirds are expatriates on the global map. Doha’s massive
international airport is even before its completion an international hub connecting the
world’s seven continents. Al Jazeera competes with the BBC as the world’s foremost
global broadcaster while Qatari businessmen are beginning to reap benefits in terms of
business opportunities from their country’s investment in sports. Doha is a sought after
venue for disputing parties such as the United States and the Taliban, bitterly divided
Palestinian factions and warring parties in Sudan, to find a way to bridge their differences. 

It is a strategy that envisions cost outstripping material benefit for years to come with
some individual components producing tangible results quicker than others. In many ways
however, the intangibles – regional and political change, global positioning and the
benefits of being on the right side of history – are as if not more important than a
bookkeeper’s calculation of outlays and revenues.

Sparking opposition in the emir’s backyard

Yet, it is those intangibles that are sparking opposition in Emir Hamad’s own backyard to
the social and economic changes necessary to transform Qatar into a global sports hub and the political and diplomatic path on which the Gulf state has embarked that is likely to
produce a region very different from the one conservative Wahhabis envision. These
intangibles challenge a religious and cultural environment that discourages women’s
involvement in sports, often sees Western-style entertainment and fun as irreligious,
opposes the kind of political change sweeping the Middle East and North Africa and
favours government and society’s uncompromising adherence to Islamic law. 

In the latest spat, conservative Qataris, including members of the royal family, quietly
backed by Saudi Arabia have challenged the emir’s authority to allow the sale of alcohol
and pork to non-Muslims. The conservative opposition has already prompted the ban
of alcohol on a man-made island largely frequented by expatriates, a decision to make
Arabic rather than English the language of instruction in education and a boycott of
Qatar Airways. So far both sides have scored points. Sports has been exempted from the
imposition of Arabic as the language of  instruction while the naming of the mosque
after Sheikh Mohammed throws a bone to the conservatives albeit one that is unlikely
to satisfy them.

Asian Cup in 2010 in Qatar. Photo: lefty1007/Flickr 

Beyond forging a national identity, sports serves also as an effort to pre-empt the
kind of youth-led rebellion that has been rocking much of the region for the past
16 months. “Our goal is to create a dialogue that resonates with and talks to the
youth. This is an opportunity to inspire and engage young people…. Sports are at
the heart of Qatar’s development… Sports like education and arts are part of our
national identity,” Noora Al Mannai, CEO of Qatar’s bid to win the right to host the
2020 Olympic Games, told a recent brainstorm in Qatar designed to define the role
of government, NGOs and business in sports. She described “empowering young
people” as one reason for the bid alongside Qatar’s efforts to mediate conflicts and
reduce regional obesity and diabetes levels.  

Sport as a trigger for social change

Nonetheless, sports are likely to spark a social revolution of sorts as long as the emir
is able to keep the conservatives in check. For one, it is forcing Qatar to become the
first wealthy Gulf state dependent on expatriate labour to significantly improve
working conditions and the legal environment of expatriate workers in line with
international standards. It is however not clear yet whether that will also mean
legalizing the existence of trade unions. 

With international trade unions threatening a global campaign under the slogan
'No World Cup in Qatar without labour rights,' Qatar has further vowed to ensure
that contractors involved in preparations for the 2022 World Cup will adhere to
international labour laws.

Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee Secretary General Hassan Al Thawadi conceded
early this year that "major sporting events shed a spotlight on conditions in
countries. There are labour issues here in the country, but Qatar is committed to
reform. We will require that contractors impose a clause to ensure that
international labour standards are met. Sport and football in particular, is a very
powerful force. Certainly we can use it for the benefit of the region."

Qatar and other oil-rich Gulf states have long been targeted by labour organizations
for their treatment of particularly unskilled and low-skilled workers. Qatar like the
UAE and others in the Gulf operates a sponsorship program under which all foreign
workers have to have a local sponsor who can make seeking alternative employment
or another sponsor difficult and who often retains the worker’s passport on
employment. Trade unionists argue that the lack of a minimum wage further
enhances exploitation of labour.

The issue of workers’ rights touches a raw nerve in countries like Qatar and the UAE
where the local population constitutes a minority. Gulf states are concerned that
improving labour conditions would not only have economic consequences but also
give foreigners a greater stake in a society which ensures they are forced to leave the
country once their contract has ended.

Qatar’s employment of sports to project itself internationally coupled with pressure
from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has also prompted Qatar to field
women’s athletes for the first time in its history at this year’s London Olympics. Qatar
alongside Saudi Arabia, which is still struggling with how to respond to the IOC, and
Brunei, is the only country never to have been represented by women at an
international tournament. To be fair, women in Qatar, in contrast to their sisters in
Saudi Arabia, are by and large subject to far less restrictions.

Increasing professionalization and commercialization in the region

Finally, in a part of the world where sports and particularly soccer are often a
battlefield for political, ethnic, religious and gender rights, Qatar’s successful bid for
the 2022 World Cup has sparked a growing push towards professionalization,
commercialization and the creation of a proper football industry as a key to
unlocking economic opportunity. 

For many in the region, last year’s Asia Cup final in Doha, in which half of the
competing teams hailed from the Middle East with not one reaching the semi-finals,
constituted a wake-up call. It is an experience, Middle Eastern leaders and soccer
officials do not want repeated at the Qatar World Cup.

"Something is moving," says Santino Saguto, an Italian soccer management
consultant based in Dubai. "Qatar 2022 has prompted the region to discuss ways to
create value. The leagues, the football associations and the media are starting to buy
into the concept. That's how it started in Europe."

The UAE took a first step a few years ago when for the first time it marketed the rights
to broadcast its league matches – a key step in generating revenue and creating value.
The UAE example is reportedly being discussed by Saudi Arabia, the region's most
important league beyond Egypt.

That is not to say that the UAE's blazing of the trail is not without its birth pangs.
Commercial broadcasters charge that state-owned networks distort competition by
paying exorbitant amounts for the exclusive right to broadcast major football events.

They point to Al Jazeera's clinching of the right to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 Fifa
World Cups for an undisclosed amount believed to be in excess of US$3 billion.
Abu Dhabi Media Company, owned by the royal family, was moreover awarded the
exclusive rights to air the English Premier League in the UAE.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International
Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the author of the blog, 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Expert: Israel's pressure to have little impact on the "Iran-Six powers" negotiations (JMD in Trend)


Expert: Israel's pressure to have little impact on the "Iran-Six powers" negotiations

Azerbaijan, Baku, April 16 / Trend S.Isayev/

Israel clearly wants to maintain pressure on Iran as well as on the U.S., it's a position that makes perfect sense from Israel's point of view, Senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, James M. Dorsey told Trend, commenting on Israel's position regarding the recent "Iran-Six powers" talks in Istanbul.

Two rounds of talks between Iran and the P5+1 countries have been held in Istanbul this past weekend, and, according to official statements, the discussions were "constructive".

The Iranian side was represented by ran's Supreme National Security Council Secretary,chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, while Union foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton handled the matters for the Six European powers (four permanent U.N. Security Council members Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany).

"Israel's position will have little impact on the negotiation process," Dorsey added.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday criticized nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers, saying that the Islamic republic has been given five weeks to continue enriching uranium until the next round of talks.

Speaking about the next scheduled meeting of "Iran-Six powers" negotiations that should take place in Baghdad on May 23, Dorsey said it is too early to predict anything.

"Important is the fact that all sides feel that there was a willingness to negotiate and therefore a basis to meet again on May 23," Dorsey said.

"In the run-up to the Baghdad meeting Iran and its interlocutors will be seeking to agree on a specific agenda. Whether they succeed will be a first indication of what the chances are of achieving a negotiated settlement," he added. "As always, the devil is in the details".

The United States and its European allies suspect Iran of covertly developing atomic weapons, accusations Tehran denies. The Islamic state says it has a sovereign right to nuclear activities, which it says are entirely civilian.

Turkey and Tehran: Caught between a rock and a hard place (JMD in Turkish Review)



Turkey and Tehran: Caught between 

a rock and a hard place

19 March 2012, Monday / JAMES DORSEY, S. RAJARATNAM SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, NANYANG TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY, SINGAPORE
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Turkey’s besting Iran in the contest for the hearts and minds of advocates of change
in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa is proving to be both a
blessing and a curse. With tension mounting over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the
perceived window of opportunity for a military strike closing, Turkey faces increased
challenges and the threat of a proxy war with Syria and the Islamic republic. This is
compounded by the fact that the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia need Turkey in their
effort to further corner the regime in Syria and to isolate Iran, but want to prevent a
shift in regional power away from the kingdom and the Israeli state to Ankara --
increasingly held up as the model of an economically successful, Islamist-led democracy.
 
A concerted effort by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia to further isolate Iran has laid
bare the challenges facing Turkey against the backdrop of an ever more severe
sanctions regime, increased debate regarding a military strike to prevent the Islamic
republic from developing a nuclear weapon and popular revolts sweeping the Middle
East and North Africa.

The challenges are evident in the anti-Iranian campaign’s little noticed subtext,
with the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel seeking to prevent a shift of power in the
region from Israel and the Gulf to Turkey and Iran. All three see benefit in Turkey’s
rising star as a result of its emotional support for Palestine, its deteriorating relations
with its erstwhile ally Israel, its perceived support for the Arab revolt, an impressive
economic performance and the fact that it is ruled by an elected Islamist government.
(The Justice and Development Party (AK Party), despite its Islamist origins and appeal
as well as a continued widespread perception of the party as Islamist, rejects this label,
arguing that it has put its Islamist past behind it.) However, the trio does not want
Turkey’s ascendance to be at the expense of either the kingdom or the Jewish state.

Turkey has so far largely been shielded from criticism that it, like the US, is seeking
to maintain the status quo in the Gulf and has failed to match words with deeds in its
condemnation of the Syrian regime’s brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters,
one which has already cost more than 5,000 lives. The veil shrouding contradictions in
Turkish -- as well as US, Israeli and Saudi -- policy could well soon be lifted, with Syria
emerging as a crucial flashpoint in the mushrooming power struggle in the Middle \
East \ and North Africa (MENA). Increasingly it is looking like a matter of when rather
than if the wave of protests truly spreads to the energy-rich Gulf countries, Saudi
Arabia first and foremost among them.

The gradual morphing of the 11-month old Syrian protests into a civil war, much as
was the case in Libya, leaves Turkey stuck between a rock and a hard place. With
little appetite for military intervention despite its support of the revolt and warnings
that there would be consequences if Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad failed to
engage with his detractors and initiate political and economic reform, Turkey risks
being perceived as a paper tiger. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu insisted
Turkey was “ready for all possible scenarios” but had as yet not considered military
intervention and didn’t want to. Similarly, he suggested that Turkey could create a
military buffer zone within Syria, should tens of thousands of Syrians seek refuge in
Turkey, all the while insisting that such a zone was “not on the agenda.” This
reluctance to put its money where its mouth is from Turkey is not a stance it is likely
to be able to maintain for much longer, with the failure of Arab League monitors in
Syria, tightening economic sanctions and an Arab League-backed move to get UN
Security Council endorsement of its call for al-Assad to step down.

Turkey could end up in the same boat as the US, which has seen its influence and
credibility in MENA wane because of its inability to match its words with deeds. Despite
its denunciations of al-Assad, Turkey has -- like the US -- remained silent on the need
for change in the Gulf.Like the US it has a vested interest in ensuring that the revolt
does not hit the region, Saudi Arabia in particular, with full force.

Consequently, the struggle of US President Barack Obama is one Turkey may well face.
The US administration is finding it difficult to wield its influence in a region with a more
assertive Arab public opinion, one demanding that Washington make good on its
promises in terms of both the revolution and declared support for an independent
Palestinian state.

Obama’s inability to do so, particularly in an election year, means that the US is finding
it increasingly hard to perform its past balancing of diametrically opposed demands and
expectations from its allies in the Middle East and North Africa. US support for the
toppling of leaders like Egypt’s Gen. Hosni Mubarak has damaged its ties to key autocratic
allies like Saudi Arabia, while the need to be seen to be make real steps in furthering
Palestinian independence threatens to put it on a collision course with Israel.

Turkey’s potential policy dilemma is complicated by continued fallout from the 2010
killing by Israeli Special Forces of nine Turkish nationals aboard the Mavi Marmara,
a Turkish aid ship seeking to run Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Israel imposed its naval blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized control of the territory in
June 2007, with Tel Aviv saying it was necessary to prevent weapons being supplied to
militants in the strip. Critics of the sea and land blockade describe it as collective
punishment of Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants.

Turkey has painted itself into a corner with its refusal to reverse the downgrading of
diplomatic relations with Israel to the level of second secretary and the suspension of
all military cooperation. Ankara is adamant that these measures will continue as long
as Israel fails to apologize or offer compensation for the death of the Turkish activists,
and maintains its blockade of Gaza. Short term, Turkey’s attitude has garnered it
popular support across the Arab and Muslim world, but longer term it has complicated
Turkey’s efforts to shield itself from being drawn into the region’s multiple conflicts.

Turkey’s stance on Israel means it has little (if any) ability to bring Israel and Iran back
from the brink of a military confrontation at a time that escalating tension between the
two countries threatens to impair Turkey’s efforts to project itself as a regional Islamic,
democratic, economic and military power.

While Turkish defense and military officials have little doubt that Israel would prevail
in a military confrontation with Iran, even if it is unlikely to fully destroy Iran’s
decentralized and heavily fortified nuclear facilities, they worry that likely Iranian
retaliatory attacks against Israel, as well as against US targets in the Gulf and
Afghanistan, would escalate confrontation with Iran. As a result, members of Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling AK Party have criticized him for responding
emotionally to Israeli policies. While they remain critical of Tel Aviv, they have urged
Erdoğan to repair relations with Israel in a bid to ensure that Turkey can truly act as a
bridge across the West-East divide as well as MENA’s fault lines. The key to Turkey’s
role may indeed lie partially in Israel, but Turkey has only a limited window of opportunity
to keep the door open as Western nations and Israel increasingly rattle their sabers.

In the event of a pre-emptive attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, any effort by
Ankara to remain on the sidelines risks Turkey’s being portrayed in Tel Aviv and
Washington as having not only turned on Israel -- often a yardstick in the West
for assessing Turkish foreign policy -- but also sided with the enemy. Already
Tehran eyes Ankara’s condemnation of al-Assad, as well as its mounting popularity
in a swath of land stretching from the Atlantic coast of Africa to the Gulf, with suspicion.
Tehran views these developments as a US-Saudi conspiracy designed to prevent the
Islamic Revolution of over 30 years ago getting the credit it deserves as an inspiration
for the Arab revolt and to stymie the appeal of the Islamic republic for states in the
turbulent region.

In a series of messages, Iranian leaders warned Turkey that Turkish support for an
international campaign against Syria, the Islamic republic’s foremost Arab ally, and
Syrian opposition groups would constitute a red line -- warnings Turkey has so far
ignored. Without Syria, Iran would be left only with Iraq as its foremost interlocutor in
the Arab world. Iraq lacks Syria’s relationship with groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon
and Hamas in Palestine and is unlikely to be as compliant and strategic a friend as
Syria is. Turkey compounded Iran’s narrowing options by not only setting its warnings
aside but going a step further with its agreement to install on Turkish soil a NATO
radar system believed to constitute a shield against Iranian ballistic missiles. In recent
weeks, it has also started looking at reducing its dependence on imports of Iranian oil
as Western powers crack down on Iran’s oil sales and the Islamic republic threatens to
retaliate by closing the Strait of Hormuz. Turkey sought to soften the blow by
suggesting that majority state-owned Halkbank would continue to handle Iranian oil
payments as long as that does not run afoul of the sanctions regime.

Turkish officials and analysts fear that mounting tension with Iran could produce a
covert proxy war, with Iran and Syria supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK),
which has stepped up attacks on Turkish military targets in the southeast of the country.
Syria and Iran have already halted their security cooperation with Turkey with regard to
the Kurds. Conservative Iranian columnists have denounced Erdoğan’s government in
recent months as a Sunni Muslim dictatorship that does not represent half the country’s
population -- a reference to Turkey’ large Kurdish and Alevi communities. They warned
that Turkey’s minorities constituted its Achilles’ heel and a potentially destabilizing factor.

In a strange twist, Iranian soccer, pockmarked by nationalist and environmental protests
in Iran’s East Azerbaijan Province, offers a perspective of how Turkey could respond in
a proxy war with Syria and Iran -- one using ethnic minorities as pawns. The soccer
protests in the Bagh Shomal and Yadegar-e-Emam stadiums in Tabriz, the capital of the
province, signal a rise in Azeri nationalism. This trend would enable Turkey to exploit
secessionist sentiments among its Turkic brethren in the predominantly Azeri East
Azerbaijan Province, which borders the Turkic former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, a
close Turkish ally.

In the latest soccer incident in Tabriz, fans of Tabriz soccer club Tractor Sazi Tabriz F.C.
-- a focus of Iranian Azerbaijan’s identity politics owned by the state-run Iran Tractor
Manufacturing Co. (ITMCO) -- wore shirts bearing Turkey and Azerbaijan’s flags and
raised the latter emblem during a match against Fajr-e Sepasi F.C. of Shiraz. “[The]
Iranian regime will […] charge them with separatism and even arrest them. The main
[Iranian concern] is that the idea of Turkism is strengthening in South Azerbaijan,”
Azeri news website news.az quoted Saftar Rahimli, a member of the board of the World
Azerbaijanis Congress, as saying. Rahimli was referring to the East Azerbaijan Province
by its nationalist Azeri name.

A conservative, pro-Iranian website, Raja News, confirmed the incident in November,
charging that the soccer fans had employed “separatist symbols” and shouted separatist
slogans during the match. Raja News accused the fans of promoting “pan-Turkish” and
“deviant” objectives. It urged authorities to ban nationalist fans from entering soccer
stadiums.

The protests during the match against the Shiraz-based club followed similar protests in
September and October sparked by the Iranian parliament’s refusal to fund efforts to save
the threatened Lake Orumiyeh and by anti-government protests in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.
The latter occurred both during last month’s 2014 World Cup qualifier against Bahrain and
at a ceremony in May following the death of Nasser Hejazi, an internationally acclaimed
Iranian defender and outspoken critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

A decision by security forces in early October to bar fans’ entry into the stadium during a
match against Tehran’s Esteghlal sent thousands into the streets of Tabriz shouting
“Azerbaijan is united!” and “Long live united Azerbaijan with its capital in Tabriz!” Scores
were injured as security forces tried to break up the protest. Cars honking their horns
choked traffic.

“Wherever Tractor goes, fans of the opposing club chant insulting slogans. They imitate the
sound of donkeys, because Azerbaijanis are historically derided as stupid and stubborn.
I remember incidents going back to the time that I was a teenager,” said a long-standing
observer of Iranian soccer.

Mounting Iran-focused tension serves, at least in the case of Israel and Saudi Arabia,
multiple purposes that go beyond the nuclear threat. It puts Turkey on the spot and shifts
attention away from the wave of revolts sweeping MENA.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Beitar Jerusalem fans beat Jewish musician for protesting against their racism


Beitar Jerusalem fans fly the flag of the outlawed racist Kach movement

By James M. Dorsey

Militant supporters of storied but controversial Beitar Jerusalem Football Club known for their anti-Palestinian, anti-Ashkenazi Jewish attitudes harassed and beat a middle-aged Jewish woman who objected to their anti-Arab slogans in the second such attack in less than a month, according to Haaretz newspaper.

Contrary to last month’s assault by the Beitar fans on Palestinian shoppers and workers in a Jerusalem mall, police launched an immediate investigation. The Israeli police force was heavily criticized for failing to initially intervene or investigation the mall incident.

The attacks as well as the police’s laxity have outraged many Israelis and raised questions about the moral fiber of a society that tolerates such incidents as well as a soccer club that is unashamedly racist.

Jerusalem musician Reli Margalit was attacked after she objected to dozens of  Beitar fans chanting anti-Arab slogans as they marched on Sunday to Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek Stadium for a match against Hapoel Acre that Beitar won 1:0.

"I heard cries of 'Death to the Arabs,' and since I was still incensed by the Malha Mall attack, I decided that I had to confront them now. I made a sign reading 'Down with Beitar's racism.' I believed that since I'm not a young woman and since I was alone, at worst it would come to curses, no more," Ms. Margalit told Haaretz.

Her assumption proved to be wrong. "Within seconds they surrounded me and started spitting at me. They took away my sign, and one of them - actually an older fan - hit me on the head with the pole of his flag. None of the fans protected me, and one girl showed up and tried to argue with me,” she said.

Police said they had escorted the militants for part of their march but had not heard racist slurs in the fans’ chants.

In a repeat of Beitar’s standard response to the racism of its most militant fans, spokesman Assaf Shaked said the team "cannot be responsible to all its supporters' actions."

Mounting Beitar fan aggression and violence is believed to stem from the growing influence among the club’s fans of a group known as La Familia that is dominated by supporters of Kach, the outlawed violent and racist party that was headed by assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane. Beitar’s management has so far failed to stymie the group’s influence.

The incidents occurred in what City University of New York scholar Dov Waxman described in a recent article in The Middle East Journal as an atmosphere of escalating tension between Jews and Palestinians in Israel. “Attitudes on both sides have hardened, mutual distrust has intensified, fear has increased, and political opinion has become more militant and uncompromising….Jews and Palestinians are currently on a collision course, with potentially severe consequences for their continued peaceful co-existence, as well as for stability and democracy in Israel,” Mr. Waxman wrote.

The incidents further highlight the failure of the Israeli Football Association (IFA), the only soccer body in the Middle East and North Africa to have launched a campaign against racism and discrimination, to rein in the Beitar fans and curb the club’s submission to its supporters’ racist attitudes. With  the worst disciplinary record in Israel’s Premier League, Beitar has faced since 2005 more than 20 hearings and has received various punishments, including point deductions, fines and matches behind closed doors because of its fans’ racist behaviour.

Beitar’s matches often resemble a Middle Eastern battlefield. It’s mostly Sephardic fans of Middle Eastern and North African origin, revel in their status as the bad boys of Israeli soccer. Their dislike of Ashkenazi Jews of East European extraction rivals their disdain for Palestinians.

Supported by Israeli right wing leaders such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Beitar traces its roots to a revanchist Zionist youth movement. Its founding players actively resisted the pre-state British mandate authorities.

Beitar is Israel’s only leading club never to have signed an Israeli Palestinian player because of fan pressure despite the fact that Palestinians are among the country’s top players. Maccabi Haifa striker Mohammed Ghadir recently put Beitar on the spot when he challenged the club to hire him despite its discriminatory hiring policies. The club refused on the grounds that its fans were not willing to accept a Palestinian player.

Beitar fans shocked Israelis several years ago when they refused to observe a moment of silence for assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who initiated the first peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

Monday, April 16, 2012

JMD on Al Qaeda on The Daily Journalist


James M. Dorsey senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute writes about Al-Qaeda’s present.

 · The Expert
    
Jaime,
Below are the answers.
Is Al-Qaeda any longer, a threat to the U.S. Government and citizens?
1. My view is that the scope of terrorism with the caveat of the threat of militants gaining access to crude weapons of mass destruction has receded to pre 9/11 levels. Al Qaeda as such post-Bin Laden is no longer the major threat. The head of the FBI has conceded as much. Of course, militants who often operate in effect independently using the Al Qaeda label in places like Yemen, North and West Africa pose a threat to national interest more than to homeland security.
Could they still run operations in the U.S. or are they financially in trouble? 
2. They probably could but its at the level of law enforcement. They are weakened financially and operationally but perhaps more importantly history has surpassed one. Few people have an appetite
They are rumors that AlQaeda could partner with Los Zetas, so they can get inside the United States and possibly plan an attack. How likely is this to happen? 
3. Anything is possible. There have been links between Al Qaeda’s North African affiliate and Central and Latin American drug organizations. That does not mean that they share their interests in common. Los Zetas may not want to further escalate its conflict with the US by taking its war to US soil, particularly at a time that Latin American governments are pushing for an end to the war on drugs and legalization.
Who is AlQaeda’s new boss? 
4. Ayman Zawahiri, who is not a loved leader and who has difficulty adopting to new realities.
Any other new terrorist organizations around there? 
5. Political violence has always been a fact of life. The major change is that the days of global rather than local ambition are over.
What future holds for AlQaeda? 
6. It depends on one’s definition of Al Qaeda: as a global organization of jihad it does not have a future; as a brand name others will exploit, definitely; as a local presence using the brand, there also is a future.