Jakarta, Indonesia — Dozens of conservative Muslims marched in Indonesia’s capital on Monday to protest Israel’s participation in Indonesia’s Under-20 World Cup for the first time.
The world’s most populous Muslim-majority country will host the U20 World Cup in six major cities in Indonesia from May 20 to June 11. A total of 24 countries from five continents are participating, including Israel, after a two-year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the host country, Indonesia automatically qualifies for the tournament.
Although Indonesia does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel and strongly supports the Palestinians, officials say the government will not prevent Israel from participating in the tournament.
Waving white flags bearing the Islamic creed and the Indonesian and Palestinian flags, more than 100 protesters filled a main road in downtown Jakarta. They stopped traffic and chanted “Allahu Akbar” and “Get Israel out of the U20 World Cup.”
The authorities closed the streets leading to the presidential palace.
The protest was organized by a conservative Muslim association that held mass protests against Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in 2016, which led to his imprisonment for blasphemy.
Several moderate Muslim groups in the country have joined in calling for Israeli players to be banned from the tournament. Among them were Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah, with more than 60 million members, the Medical Emergency Rescue Committee known as Mer-C, and the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s highest Islamic body.
“Israel’s long history of oppression against the Palestinian people encourages us to firmly reject any form of Israeli presence in Indonesia,” said Nur Aida, a protester.
Countries qualify for the U-20 World Cup based on their performance in the respective U-20 or U-19 continental competitions.
England won the title last year, while the other three semi-finalists Israel, France and Italy, as well as play-off winners Slovakia, all joined them in qualifying for Indonesia in 2023. This will be the first appearance for second-placed Israel at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said FIFA will decide on the participation of all teams and the rules of the U-20 game.
“Despite Indonesia hosting the U20s, our country’s consistent stance on Palestine will not waver, not even a little bit,” Faizasyah told a press conference.
Earlier this month, Youth and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali said the government would guarantee the security of all teams.
Winning the right to host the U-20 World Cup was a major milestone in Indonesia’s soccer development and raised hopes that a successful tournament would reverse long-standing problems that have blighted the sport in the country of 277 million people.
Last October, 135 people died during a league match between the host city of Malang in East Java, Arema FC, and Persebaya Surabaya, when police fired tear gas into the stadium and began a panicked rush for the exits.
A court this month acquitted two police officers of negligence leading to death, and sentenced a third officer, the president of Arema FC’s organizing committee and the club’s security chief to up to 18 months in prison. The verdict sparked outrage among human rights activists and victims’ families.