The Argentina Football Association (AFA) has decided to cancel Saturday’s ‘friendly’ game against Israel, which was due to be held at the Teddy Stadium, in Jerusalem. 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 ‘safety concerns’ as the reason for the last-minute cancellation.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’s (PACBI) tweet captures the sense of vindication felt by many following the news that the match had been cancelled: ‘The team responded to creative campaigning from fans around the world denouncing Israel’s sports-washing of its crimes against Palestinians’. 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 ‘whitewash the face of racism’.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman lamented the game’s suspension that was brought about by ‘Israeli-hating inciters’ and ‘’anti-Semitic terrorist supporters’. Other high-ranking political figures in Israel- Lieberman’s 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 ‘a despicable enemy’.
Netanyahu’s 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 ‘its deep appreciation’ to AFA for its ‘clear message’ 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 Israel’s 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.
“We 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,” he said, accusing Israel of using the game for political ends, rather than sports.
“Israel sought to use the game to send a political message that has nothing to do with sports,” he said. “It wanted to use (Argentina’s star player Lionel) Messi to sport-wash its crimes against the Palestinian people and Palestinian sports.”
Rjoub considered Israel’s 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 Israel’s celebration of 70 for its existence, 51 years for occupying the West Bank and East Jerusalem and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.
“Sports should not be used as a tool for political ends,” he said, adding that the decision to cancel the game was a victory for sports.
“It was not a political victory,” he insisted. “It was a sport achievement. Israel used sports as a tool for political end and for this it has failed.”