Argentina cancels match in Jerusalem, Israel

By Middle East Affairs

Palestinians groups managed to persuade and pressure Argentina from canceling their Saturday football match with Israel’s national team.

The Israeli Embassy in Argentina confirmed the news on Wednesday saying that the reasons for cancellation pointed at “threats and provocations” against Lionel Messi, a notable player on the team.

Olé, Argentinian sports daily reported that Messi and his wife had been threatened and that the game had been canceled because of it.

Jibril Rajoub, Palestine Football Association chief wrote to Argentine Football Association on May 28 to cancel the game after its location was changed to Jerusalem from Haifa. A decision that was made by the Israeli government.

In the letter, Rajoub writes, “This is a decision that, given the current context, the Palestine Football Association utterly rejects and condemns.” Rajoub also said in his letter that Israel was trying to center the match on its 70th anniversary.

Culture Minister Miri Regev insisted that Prime Minister Netanyahu speak with Argentine President Mauricio Macri to help prevent the cancellation of the match. It is being said that Macri told Netanyahu that he has no power to affect whether the game happens or not.

Clarín, the Argentine daily reported that Macri looked into the issue with the Argentine Football Association and found out that the team did not wish to play in Israel when their teammate Messi had been threatened. Macri told Netanyahu that the reason for the cancellation was not political. The daily also reported that before the match was canceled Macri had plans to attend the game with other businesspeople from the Argentine Jewish community.

Gonzalo Higuaín, an Argentinian player told ESPN, that “they’ve finally done the right thing. Rationale and health come before everything else. We think it’s best not go to Israel.”

The Israel Football Association verbally attacked Rajoub and said that his comments “crossed every red line.” They are reporting that they have not yet received the official cancellation notice.

Rajoub on Sunday told fans to burn Messi posters and jerseys if he played in the match. In his letter to Argentine Football Association, he wrote that Israel was using the match for its “political tool” after Palestinians expressed their dissatisfaction with the match taking place in Jerusalem.

Mass pressure has been put on Messi and the team all week to cancel the match with demonstrations taking place in front of their training camp in Barcelona and Buenos Aires.

“It’s too bad the soccer knights of Argentina didn’t withstand the pressure of the Israeli-hating inciters, whose only goal is to impinge on our basic right to self-defense and bring about Israel’s destruction. We will not yield to a pack of anti-Semitic terrorist supporters,” wrote Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Twitter.

Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also commented on the cancellation, “What happened here, truthfully, is less about the boycott. There’s a good friendship with Argentina, terrific relations. Due to violent incitement and threats by Jibril Rajoub and the whole bloodied-jerseys charade, fears rose about personal safety, and the players started to worry about being physically assaulted in Jerusalem.”

He continued with his speech on Israel Radio, “Unfortunately before they inquired in depth, they preferred to let the whole thing go. This is a submission to violence and terror that the Palestinians are trying to use, but let’s look at the big picture and not lose perspective.”

Eli Ben-Dahan, the Deputy Defense Minister directed many insults towards Rajoub, saying, “terrorism must be fought against,”, “Rajoub is a despicable enemy,” and “[Israel] must declare him and the entire Palestinian Authority enemies.”

A Zionist Union member Itzik Shmul said, “Instead of soccer, Miri Regev wanted politics and she got politics, and those who will pay the price are the fans who so looked forward to this historic game. It’s a great farce that gives immense momentum to the BDS campaign against Israel. Despite everything, we still implore Argentina’s players: This is a mistake. Come for the soccer, let go of the politics.”

The head of the Joint List of Arab parties Ayman Odeh said “Netanyahu’s government may be gaining Trump, but it’s losing the world. You can’t just keep enjoying games while the rights of millions of Palestinians are being trampled. There’s only one way to win – ending the occupation and a real peace treaty. It’s still possible.”

A member of the Joint List Haneen Zoabi was very happy with Argentine’s decision and said “holding the match while soldiers butcher the citizens of Gaza is unseemly and may be seen as allowing it.”

Another member of the Join List, Yousef Jabareen said “The right-wing government has to realize that it cannot crudely trample UN resolutions and the rules of the international court and expect the world to ignore it,” he said, referring to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Jorge Sampaoli, the Argentina coach said that Argentina never wanted to play Israel, but they wanted to train in Barcelona, where there was little chance of Israel visiting. The Argentine team is already looking for a new rival to play.

Rajoub was adamant in his campaign against Messi and his team, that if he were to play in the match, his millions of fans in the Arab and Islamic world would turn against him.

As Rajoub was leaving the Argentine representative office in the West Bank town of Ramallah, he said speaking of Messi, “He’s a big symbol so we are going to target him personally, and we call on all to burn his picture and his shirt and to abandon him. We still hope that Messi will not come.”

Outside the office, a group of Palestinian youth with Palestine soccer scarves attempted to set fire to an Argentine flag.

Rajoub has a long history of trying to persuade FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to impose sanctions against Israel, in turn for their travel restrictions on Palestinian athletes over “security concerns” to Israel’s safety.

Since 1986, Argentina has visited Israel four times in pre-World Cup stopovers.

The match on Saturday was originally supposed to be played in Haifa, but Israeli officials then paid extra to get the match moved to Teddy Stadium in West Jerusalem.

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