Indonesia leader says no foreign policy change in hosting Israel for U-20 World Cup

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JAKARTA – Indonesia’s president said on Tuesday that Israel’s participation in the Under-20 World Cup to be hosted by his country meant no change to its foreign policy, stressing amid domestic protests that sport and politics should not be mixed.

Joko Widodo confirmed he had sent Erick Thohir, a cabinet minister and former Inter Milan chairman who heads the country’s football association (PSSI), to talk to the world governing body Fifa, after the draw for next month’s tournament was cancelled over opposition to Israel taking part.

Jokowi, as the president is popularly know, underlined Indonesia’s support for Palestine and a two-state solution and said Israel’s qualification was secured in July last year, long after his country won hosting rights.

“I hereby guarantee Israel’s participation has nothing to do with the consistency of our foreign policy position towards Palestine, because our support for Palestine is always strong and sturdy,” he said in a livestreamed address.

“Do not mix matters of sports and politics.”

Indonesia has no formal diplomatic ties with Israel and protesters have recently held marches in Jakarta demanding Israel be stopped from competing in the May 20 to June 11 event.

Indonesia’s population is predominately Muslim and most practise a moderate version of Islam, though a rise in religious conservatism has crept into politics in recent years.

PSSI on Sunday said the draw for the 24-team tournament, initially scheduled for Friday, had been cancelled after the governor of the largely Hindu holiday island of Bali refused to host Israel’s team.

Governor Wayan Koster had urged the Ministry of Youth and Sports to “adopt a policy forbidding the Israeli team from competing in Bali” due to the conflict with the Palestinians, media reported, citing a letter sent by Koster.

Koster’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The governor told media on Monday he was following a “government stance”. Israel’s football association has been contacted for comment.

Jokowi made no mention on Tuesday of what Erick would propose to Fifa.

The cancellation raised fears the country might lose its hosting rights and plunge Indonesian football into isolation again after it was suspended from Fifa for a year until May 2016...

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