FIFA has banned and fined the president of the Palestinian Football Association after he called for burning shirts and images of Argentina's legendary footballer Lionel Messi earlier this summer.
Jibril Rajoub launched the campaign against the Argentinian national team and its star player in a bid to get a match between the South American players and the Israeli national team canceled. Israelis had moved the match from Haifa to Jerusalem, angering Palestinians further. In the end, Argentina chose to cancel the game.
On Friday, FIFA's Disciplinary Committee announced that it had sanctioned Rajoub over the incident.
According to an official statement, the punishment is "a 12-month match suspension and a fine of CHF 20,000 [$20,340] for breaching article 53 (Inciting hatred and violence) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code, following media statements he gave calling on football fans to target the Argentinian Football Association and burn jerseys and pictures of Lionel Messi."
The friendly game between Israel and Argentina was to be played at a time of heightened tensions between Palestinians and Israelis following the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Dozens of Palestinian demonstrators had been killed by the Israeli military as they protested the move.
To add insult to injury, the high profile match was slated to be played at Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium, which was constructed over a Palestinian village destroyed in 1948 by Israeli forces, Al Jazeera reported.
In response, Rajoub called on Argentina to cancel the game and side with many other international celebrities, musicians and academics who have taken a stand against Israeli violence.
"He [Messi] is a big symbol so we are going to target him personally and we call on all to burn his picture and his shirt and to abandon him," Rajoub said in June before the match was canceled. "We still hope that Messi will not come."
Palestinian footballer Mohammed Khalil also called on Messi and Argentina to cancel the match.
"I call on the Argentinian team and especially captain Lionel Messi - because he is very popular in Palestine, particularly in the Gaza Strip - to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and to boycott the scheduled game with Israel, which is occupying our land," he said at the time.
Following Argentina's decision to cancel the game, Rajoub thanked the South American team.
"The Israelis tried to use Messi and those stars from Argentina, and I would like to thank them and appreciate their decision, which I think was on the right track,” he said, Reuters reported.
In the end, FIFA decided to hand down a harsh punishment against Rajoub for his actions.
The Palestinian FA responded to the sanctioning by saying it "went beyond the alleged offense."
"[FIFA] imposed the maximum punishment for an accusation that wasn't proven," the organization added.
It further pointed out that neither Messi or Argentina had lodged any complaint, only the Israeli FA had done so. As the association pointed out, such a complaint's validity is questionable due to the reality that Israel and Palestine remain in a state of open conflict.