The Argentina Football Association (AFA) has decided to cancel Saturdayâs âfriendlyâ game against Israel, which was due to be held at the Teddy Stadium, in Jerusalem. Â After mounting pressure from world-wide campaigns calling on Argentina to boycott the match, Messi and his teammates will no longer come to Israel but will remain at their training ground in Barcelona. They cited âsafety concernsâ as the reason for the last-minute cancellation.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of IsraelâsÂ (PACBI) tweet captures the sense of vindication felt by many following the news that the match had been cancelled: âThe team responded to creative campaigning from fans around the world denouncing Israelâs sports-washing of its crimes against Palestiniansâ. According to the PNN, these have included the twitter campaigns, accompanied by the hash tags #ArgentinaNoVayas and #NothingFriendly, which sought to highlight the damaging effect the game would have by promoting a positive image of Israel abroad.
The outpouring of criticism leveled at the Argentine football team, and Messi, its poster boy, in particular, reached fever pitch earlier this week when Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Association, urged people to burn their Messi shirts if the game went ahead. At the same time, he beseeched Messi not to âwhitewash the face of racismâ.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor LiebermanÂ lamented the gameâs suspension that was brought about by âIsraeli-hating incitersâ and ââanti-Semitic terrorist supportersâ. Other high-ranking political figures in Israel- Liebermanâs deputy, Eli Ben-Dahan, among them- have implored Netanyahu to take sanctions against Rajoub and revoke his entry permit to Israel. In warring words, Ben-Dahan denounced Rajoub as âa despicable enemyâ.
Netanyahuâs call to the Argentine President, Mauricio Macri, could not reverse the decision. The latter said it was outside his control. The Israeli Football Association awaits confirmation of the cancellation from their Argentine counterparts.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates extended âits deep appreciationâ to AFA for its âclear messageâ to Israeli society.
WAFA further reports that the head of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), Jibril Rjoub, said on Wednesday that cancelling the Argentina-Israel football match, planned for Saturday, in Jerusalem, was a victory for sports.
Rjoub said, in a press conference, that intensive work by the PFA has culminated in convincing the AFF that Israelâs intentions behind holding the game in Jerusalem were political and a violation of United Nations resolutions and international law, prompting Argentina to cancel the game.
âWe took the initiative right from day one and exerted all efforts to work according to FIFA rules in order to prevent the game from taking place in Jerusalem,â he said, accusing Israel of using the game for political ends, rather than sports.
âIsrael sought to use the game to send a political message that has nothing to do with sports,â he said. âIt wanted to use (Argentinaâs star player Lionel) Messi to sport-wash its crimes against the Palestinian people and Palestinian sports.â
Rjoub considered Israelâs decision to move the game from the northern coastal city of Haifa to Jerusalem as an attempt to politicize sports for political ends, particularly after tying it to Israelâs celebration of 70 for its existence, 51 years for occupying the West Bank and East Jerusalem and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.
âSports should not be used as a tool for political ends,â he said, adding that the decision to cancel the game was a victory for sports.
âIt was not a political victory,â he insisted. âIt wasÂ Â a sport achievement. Israel used sports as a tool for political end and for this it has failed.â
Chris Carlson is a student of religion at Mount Mercy University, United States, and has been a regular volunteer with the IMEMC since 2013. He assisted in providing extensive coverage of the 2014 Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip and continues, into the present day, with the issues at hand. He can be reached via email at c h r i s @ i m e m c . o r g.