Asia Watch: Aftershocks
May 3, 2023 | Michael Shannon
The shock reverberations of Indonesia being stripped of hosting the U-20 FIFA World Cup have shown its domestic political machinations in a harsh light, while blame and denial fill the vacuum. Decades of reflexive anti-Israel posturing from Indonesian political, religious and intellectual leaders have had virtually no consequence beyond Indonesia’s borders – until now.
While a priceless opportunity for its millions of avid football fans and heartbroken youth team has gone begging, Indonesia should consider itself fortunate that FIFA decided to only impose a sanction that freezes the funding for the Indonesian Football Association instead of banning its teams for a second time in eight years. A yellow card, so to speak.
Presidential polling also received a shakeup in the days following FIFA’s decision, with Defence Minister and two-time candidate Prabowo Subianto opening a 4% margin over long-time frontrunner and Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, whose standing took a hit for joining calls for Israel to be excluded from the U-20 tournament.
Two weeks later, the same poll revealed Ganjar had regained a slender lead of 1.4% (other polls make the situation less clear) as it became apparent that his out-of-character stance on hosting the Israeli team had been dictated by his Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P) leadership, allegedly to uphold “anti-colonial” precepts embedded in the constitution and save President Widodo from impeachment – an excuse that stretches credulity. In this, party leader Megawati Sukarnoputri played a key role – invoking her father Sukarno’s foreign policy, which placed the Palestinian cause as one of its cornerstones, to justify the PDI-P’s intervention – a typically unsubtle powerplay/loyalty test that backfired badly on her, Ganjar and other PDI-P governors obliged to take the same line.
Megawati’s intervention and the ultimate humiliating result is said to have deeply angered Widodo, deepening his estrangement from his former political patron. While Megawati has unquestioned power within her party, Jokowi has the power bestowed by years of high public approval. The candidate anointed by Jokowi stands to benefit greatly in the 2024 election, such that both Ganjar and (former Jokowi opponent) Prabowo have sought the glow of being seen alongside the popular President.
Meanwhile, the other governor to wear the public outrage over the U-20 FIFA debacle, Bali Governor I Wayan Koster appeared to reverse his position on the 2023 World Beach Games, which Israel has been invited to participate in, to be held on the island in August. After originally banning Israeli athletes from competing in Bali, Governor Koster met with Indonesian Minister of Youth and Sports Dito Ariotedjo and the Chairman of the Indonesian Olympics Committee Raja Sapta Oktohari on April 14, and stated that the Games would “run smoothly in line with the Constitution… because there is already an agreement that Bali will be the host.”
Yet Koster has since hardened his view, citing Indonesia’s constitution and regulations relating to the display of the Israeli flag and anthem. “So I still reject Israel’s presence in Bali, including at the upcoming ANOC World Beach Games,” he said.
Anger over the U-20 FIFA debacle produced a predictably strange result in social media. A video of FIFA President Gianni Infantino has been doctored to include the claim that the world football’s governing body has banned Israel from playing in the U-20 World Cup in 2023, and that Indonesia would take its place.
The video, originally recorded in 2019, actually shows Infantino delivering a message to the Indonesian Football Federation ahead of a special congress, but the fake version has added Indonesian-language subtitles that suggest that Infantino has announced a “ban” on Israel from the tournament.
“Apologies to Indonesia. I am aware my decision was wrong. Israel deserves to be banned in the World Cup right now. Their heinous action last night makes me sad for the conditions of the Palestinians,” the subtitles read as Infantino speaks to the camera in English.
At the 0:21 mark, a male narrator can be heard saying in Indonesian: “Israel has been banned by FIFA. Indonesia’s U-20 team has replaced the position of Israel’s U-20 team in the U-20 World Cup in 2023… This followed an incident of the Israeli forces’ attack on the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium… during a 2023 Palestinian league cup final match between Jabal al-Mukaber vs Balata FC.”
The video has been viewed several hundred thousand times so far.
Meanwhile, a group of Indonesian hackers called “VulzSecTeam” published data from Israeli petrol stations, bus stations and flights on April 16 via their Telegram channel, according to a report from the Israeli daily Maariv. They accessed a number of government systems in Israel, including those of the police, health ministry and central bank.
The group told Arab News they will soon target “other systems in Israel,” and that “Operation Israel” was started “for humanitarian reasons” to spread awareness of their belief in “freedom among human beings, including the freedom for Palestinians from Israeli attacks.”