Indonesia is set to host the FIFA U-20 World Cup from May 20 to June 11, with 24 countries participating in the prestigious tournament. Among these countries is Israel, making its first-ever appearance in the event. This inclusion has sparked controversy and protests among conservative Muslim groups in the country.
As the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia has long been a staunch supporter of the Palestinians, and it does not maintain formal diplomatic ties with Israel. However, the Indonesian government has stated that it will not prevent Israel from participating in the tournament.
On Monday, more than 100 conservative Muslims marched in Jakarta to protest Israel’s involvement in the event. Demonstrators waving Islamic, Indonesian, and Palestinian flags blocked a major thoroughfare in the city, chanting “Allahu Akbar” and “Get out Israel from U-20 World Cup.” Authorities responded by blocking streets leading to the Presidential Palace.
The protest was organized by a conservative Muslim alliance that previously held mass demonstrations in 2016 against Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, ultimately resulting in his imprisonment for blasphemy.
Several moderate Muslim groups in Indonesia have also called for Israeli players to be denied entry to the tournament. These groups include Muhammadiyah, the country’s second-largest Muslim organization, as well as the Medical Emergency Rescue Committee (Mer-C) and the Indonesian Ulema Council, Indonesia’s highest Islamic body.
One protester, Nur Aida, stated, “Israel’s long history of oppression against the Palestinian people motivates us to strongly reject Israel’s presence in any form in Indonesia.”
Teams qualify for the U-20 World Cup based on their performance in their respective U-20 or U-19 continental competitions. Israel, as the runner-up in last year’s competition, secured its place in the 2023 tournament alongside England, France, Italy, and Slovakia.
Despite the protests, Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson, Teuku Faizasyah, emphasized that FIFA is responsible for determining participation and rules for the U-20 World Cup. Faizasyah assured that Indonesia’s consistent stance on Palestine would not change as a result of hosting the event.
Youth and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali also stated that the government would guarantee the safety of all participating teams.
Hosting the U-20 World Cup marks a significant milestone for Indonesia’s soccer development, with hopes that a successful tournament will help address long-standing issues in the country’s sports scene. However, the event has not been without controversy, as demonstrated by the recent protests and last year’s tragic incident in which 135 people died during a league game in East Java’s Malang city.
As the tournament approaches, it remains to be seen how the Indonesian government and FIFA will address the concerns raised by these protests and ensure a safe and successful event for all participants.