Argentina Cancels Soccer Match in Israel Following Palestinian Pressure, Threats

BDS
Credit: Flickr user Takver

Argentina has pulled its men's national soccer team out of a World Cup warm-up match against Israel following pressure from pro-Palestinian groups and threats against Argentina's players over playing the game.

Argentina said the team cannot attend the match, scheduled to be played at Jerusalem's Teddy Kollek Stadium on Saturday, because of safety concerns stemming from threats against players, the Associated Press reported.

Claudio Tapia, president of the Argentine Football Association, said he could not allow the team to travel because of the threats, and he apologized to the Israeli community.

"What has happened in the last 72 hours, the actions, the threats that have occurred have led us to take the decision not to travel," he said. "[We] apologize to the Israeli community. It's nothing against the Israeli community, the Jewish community, and I would like everyone to take this decision as a contribution to world peace."

An Israeli official said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Argentinian President Mauricio Macri to discuss reversing the decision, but Macri said he does not have the power to do so.

"The team is hesitant to come to Israel because of all the pressure that has been placed on them," an Israeli official told the Ynet news site.

Groups supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel threatened to start a worldwide campaign against Argentinian soccer unless the country dropped out of the game. The head of the Palestinian Football Association told people to burn jerseys of Argentinian star Lionel Messi if he were to play, and BDS groups said they would work to undermine Argentina's joint bid with Uruguay and Paraguay to host the 2030 World Cup.

The Palestinian FA said in a statement that accepting an invitation to play "in the occupied city of Jerusalem" could render them "unworthy" to host the World Cup.

"The Palestinian Football family calls upon the Argentinian Football Association, and the Argentinian national team, to refrain from being used, by politicians in the Israeli government, as a tool to normalize the illegal annexation of occupied East Jerusalem, and to whitewash the Israeli systematic violations of international law and human rights," the Palestinian FA said.

Israel's Teddy Stadium is in West Jerusalem.

Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev blamed "terror groups and BDS" for Argentina pulling out. Meanwhile, boycott groups have welcomed the news and told soccer's international governing body, FIFA, to "take note."

"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," the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel wrote on Twitter.

The head of the Palestinian FA, Jibril Rajoub, said in a press conference in the West Bank that Messi should not play because he is a "symbol of peace." He also called on Arabs around the world to burn Messi jerseys and posters if he does participate in the "political" match.

"The Israeli government is trying to give it political significance by insisting it be held in Jerusalem," Rajoub said in Arabic.

The scheduled match was highly anticipated in Israel, with tickets selling out in 20 minutes.

The cancellation comes as Hamas-led riots at the Israel-Gaza Strip border have thrust the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back into the headlines and raised the prospect of violence if Argentina does visit the Jewish state. As demonstrators have launched firebombs and other weapons into Israel and attempted to breach the border fence, Hamas has also launched dozens of rockets into Israel.