Hostility looms towards team Israel ahead of 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Indonesia

Israel’s U-20 football team. Photo: Instagram/@isr.fa
Israel’s U-20 football team. Photo: Instagram/@isr.fa

While Indonesia is proud to host the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup from May to June, it now has to awkwardly juggle the wishes of event organizers and conservative groups over Israel’s participation in the major youth football tournament.

Indonesia does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel; citizens of the Muslim-majority country widely view Israel as an enemy due to its years of hostile occupation of Palestine.

On the pitch, Israel’s U-20 team booked their place in the tournament by virtue of being one of the best youth teams in Europe. This would be Israel’s debut U-20 World Cup appearance.

The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the highest Islamic clerical body in the nation, yesterday called on the government to explain how they will accommodate the Israeli team without compromising Indonesia’s stance towards Israel. The council is also set to hold an audience with 77 Islamic organizations to hear their opinions on the matter.

Last week, a small group of citizens in Central Java’s Solo, which will host the tournament’s final match on June 11, staged a protest at the City Council against Israel’s participation. Among their concerns were the unfurling of the Israeli flag and its national anthem being played on Indonesian soil, which could be construed as the host nation’s validation of Israel as a legitimate country.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has since allayed such concerns, stressing that allowing Israel to participate in the tournament at the behest of FIFA does not detract Indonesia from its commitment to the Palestinian cause.

Meanwhile, National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo yesterday said team Israel will be afforded the same protection and security as teams from other nations while they are here.

The 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup will kick off on May 20 at the Gelora Bung Karno (GBK) Stadium in Jakarta, with the final match set to take place at Solo’s Manahan Stadium on June 11. Team Indonesia will play the opening match against a team that will be determined by a draw on March 31. Indonesia being drawn in the same group as Israel is a possible outcome.

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