The friendly soccer match that was scheduled for Saturday night at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem between Argentina and Israel will not take place, the Israeli embassy in Argentina announced late Tuesday night. Earlier on Tuesday, Argentine media reported that the reason for the cancellation was PA Arab pressure, coupled with personal requests from senior players on the Argentine team, including Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano, not to come to Israel because of death threats against them.
The Argentine foreign minister described the threats as “worse than ISIS.”
Thank you! @Argentina cancels “friendly” match with Israel. #ArgentinaNotGoing! Striker Gonzalo “Pipa” Higuaín says, “Not going was the right thing to do.” Good luck at the #WorldCup. pic.twitter.com/CBwtEKWVj2
— PACBI (@PACBI) June 5, 2018
On Sunday, PA Soccer Federation Chairman Jibril Rajoub called on Arab and Muslim sports fans to burn pictures and shirts of Messi if he attended the friendly match with Israel.
Rajoub, who was first arrested in 1970 for throwing a grenade at an Israeli army bus near Hebron, later served as head of the PA Preventive Security Force and was Yasser Arafat’s national security advisor. During his tenure, he was accused of using the force to quash political dissent and harass political opponents, including shooting them in the knee in broad daylight, and torturing them in the Muqata dungeons in Ramallah.
On Sunday, Rajoub led a demonstration in front of the Argentine delegation in Ramallah and demanded that the Argentines cancel the game on Saturday night in Jerusalem. “Messi, do not come,” Rajoub said, “Do not legitimize racism and the crimes of the occupation.”
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev suggested Argentine players received personal threats against themselves and their families from terror groups, which is quite likely, and we may find out more about it some day. Meanwhile, the Israeli organizers are haggling with the Argentine national team over compensations for the production as well as reimbursing ticket holders. According to Channel 2 News, the reneging team will pay up around $2.2 million in compensations.
At the request of Minister Regev, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke with Argentine President Mauricio Macri Tuesday night, in an attempt to prevent the cancellation, but after two phone conversations it became apparent that Macri was unable to influence the decision.
PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) tweeted Tuesday night: “BREAKING: We welcome news that @Argentina’s “friendly” football match with Israel has been canceled! The team responded to creative campaigning from fans around the world denouncing Israel’s sports-washing of its crimes against Palestinians. @FIFAcom: Take note! #NothingFriendly”
The PA Arab message was retweeted by BDS accounts around the world, who were beside themselves with glee at the opportunity to shame Israel.
The Palestinian Football Association issued a statement saying it “congratulates the Argentine players led by the stars Messi and the rest of the players who refused to serve as a bridge to achieving unsportsmanlike goals.”
In recent days, the PA campaign intensified in the media and the social media, and dozens of BDS activists demonstrated in front of the Barcelona training camp of the Argentine team, which is preparing for the World Cup games in Russia this month. On Tuesday, the BDS demonstrators arrived wearing bloodied Argentine team shirts and called on the players to boycott the game.
BDS demonstrators in Buenos Aires chanted “Don’t play in Israel,” and issued a statement saying, “We ask Leo Messi and Argentina not to take part in a game organized by the apartheid regime. This game will be used by Israel to cover the massacre against the Palestinian people, in order to reaffirm Jerusalem as their capital, in violation of international law.”
In the end, clearly, the Argentine national team decided the game in Jerusalem, only a few days ahead of the Mondial was not worth the headache. The team management offered to play Israel in Barcelona instead, but considering the vehement anti-Israel views of many Spaniards, that, too, would have turned out to be a disaster.