Argentina pulls out of Jerusalem soccer match amid Palestinian pressure

The Palestinians celebrated the cancellation and thanked the Argentinian players for "refusing to be used to serve a non-sporting goal.”
Israeli Minister of Sports and Culture Miri Regev at a press conference today Photo Credit: Yossi Zeliger, Flash90

The Argentinian Football Association has announced that the friendly match between the Argentinian and Israeli national teams, scheduled for this Saturday in Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium, is cancelled.

Rumors of the cancellation have been circulating since yesterday (Tuesday) evening, but were confirmed this afternoon. The match was to be Argentina’s final warmup game before the World Cup in Russia begins on June 16.

According to reports, the Argentinian team caved to political pressure from the Palestinian Football Association and BDS activists. “They’ve finally done the right thing,” Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain said.

Last week, Palestinian FA chief Jibril Rajoub wrote a letter to the head of the Argentinian FA charging Israel with using the game as a “political tool” after government officials had the game moved from Haifa to Jerusalem. Rajoub also called on his fellow Palestinians and Arabs and Muslims around the world to burn replicas of Lionel Messi’s jersey as well as photos of the athlete in a sign of protest against the match.

In a quick turnaround, once news of the cancellation became official, Rajoub had high praise for the Argentinian team. “Values, morals and sport have secured a victory today,” he said. “A red card was raised at Israel through the cancellation of the game.”

At a press conference earlier today in Ramallah, he said that “the Palestinian FA thanks Argentina’s players led by star Messi for refusing to be used to serve a non-sporting goal.”

This is not the first time the Palestinians have pressured FIFA affiliates into taking sides in the political conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Last year, the Palestinian FA attempted to have Israeli teams based in the West Bank banned from the 2018 World Cup.

Israeli politicians and sports officials were slow to respond to the news of the cancellation of the match. Some reports said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Argentinian President Mauricio Macri in an attempt to salvage the match.

Many soccer fans in Israel have criticized Israeli Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev for intervening and politicizing the match by pushing for its move to Jerusalem.

In a press conference this evening, Regev blamed Palestinian terror threats, and not Israel’s political agenda, for instilling fear in Argentina’s players.

“The terror threats on Messi’s life are what made him to decide. The decision stems from one reason only,” Regev said. “The threats made by terrorists against Messi, his family and against his friends on the team.”

Holding up photos of blood-stained Argentina jerseys used in the protest against the match, she said “these are photos of terror elements, the same terror that led to the murder of the athletes in Munich. The true story is not Haifa and not Jerusalem.”



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