Israeli soccer fans were devastated after learning that Argentina succumbed to intense Palestinian pressure — including threats against one of Argentina’s star players — and pulled out of a friendly pre-World Cup match against Israel.
The match, set to take place in Jerusalem this Saturday at Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek Stadium, was to be Argentina’s last before the World Cup in Russia on June 16.
Palestinians along with the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement began railroading the friendly match when plans to host the game in Israel were first announced three months ago.
The BDS movement, which urges the boycott, disinvestment and sanction of Israel and Israeli entities, has in the past successfully discouraged musicians, artists and athletes from performing in Israel. This match’s cancellation will be undoubtedly be listed as one of its major successes.
Argentine Football Association Vice President Hugo Moyano said the team had been threatened as they trained in Barcelona. Pro-Palestinian protestors carried Palestinians flags and bloodied Argentinean jerseys calling out the names of the players.
“I think it’s a good thing that the match between Argentina and Israel was suspended,” Moyano was quoted as saying on ESPN. “The right thing was done, it’s not worth it. The stuff that happens in those places, where they kill so many people, as a human being you can’t accept that in any way. The players’ families were suffering due to the threats.”
The Argentinian branch of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement (BDS) began its campaign against Argentina’s team back in April. BDS Argentina used the hashtag #ArgentinaNoVayas, “Argentina don’t go,” in its campaign.
The game was originally slated to take place in Haifa, but was moved to Jerusalem after efforts by Israel’s Ministry of Culture and Sports to make it part of the country’s year-round celebration of its founding.
Argentina’s team has played in Israel in 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998.
The Israeli Embassy in Argentina affirmed the nations’ friendship despite the cancellation and compared threats against Argentinian players to Israeli athletes who are also targeted for their nationality.
“The threats and provocations directed at Lionel Messi, which logically aroused the solidarity of his colleagues and fear of playing the friendly, are no strangers to the daily life of Israel’s civilian population whose sporting stars … have been on numerous occasions the targets of violence and attacks,” the embassy tweeted.
Lionel Messi, who also plays for Barcelona and is a famously loved athlete in Israel, was mentioned by name in the heated campaign to cancel the game. Head of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril Rajoub called on fans to burn jerseys with his name if he dared to play in Israel.
“Messi is a symbol of peace and love,” Rajoub said. “We ask him not to participate in laundering the crimes of the occupation.”
He called on Messi’s millions of fans in Arab countries to “burn their shirts which bear his name and posters [with his image].”
Palestinians also threatened to vote against Argentina’s bid to host the 2030 World Cup, saying it would “launch a worldwide campaign against Argentina’s eligibility to host the FIFA World Cup 2030.” The Palestinian Football Association said in a statement that by playing “in the occupied city of Jerusalem,” Argentina would be considered “unworthy” of hosting the 2030 World Cup.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly asked Argentinian President Mauricio Macri to intercede, but a senior Israeli official quoted in Hebrew-language media said chances were slim the game could be salvaged.
Meanwhile Palestinians rejoiced in the streets when the news broke.
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 pic.twitter.com/9ZdFYy32ke
— PACBI (@PACBI) June 5, 2018
Tickets to the highly anticipated match sold out in 20 minutes in Israel. Now fans will receive refunds while Israel loses the anticipated revenue plus the prestige of hosting this event. Many fans had booked hotels in Jerusalem and the Argentinean team was to stay at the Orient Hotel. Other companies invested millions of shekels in the game through advertising or branding.
According to Ynet, the contract stipulates that a cancellation requires Argentina will have to pay $2.2 million, a hefty sum for the South American nation.