Argentina calls off soccer friendly against Israel under pressure from campaigners
Under pressure from pro-Palestine campaigners, Argentina has canceled a controversial World Cup warm-up match against Israel in the occupied Jerusalem al-Quds amid an international outcry over the regime’s crimes against Palestinians.
A senior source at Argentina’s Football Federation, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the game had been called off.
In an interview with the ESPN sports channel, Argentinean striker Gonzalo Higuain confirmed the cancellation, saying, “They’ve finally done the right thing.”
Additionally, the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires said in a statement that it “regrets to communicate the suspension of the match” due to “threats and provocations” against Argentinean striker Lionel Messi.
The Palestinian Football Association (FA) had earlier called on Arab and Muslim sports fans to burn photos and T-shirts of Messi if he attended the friendly match.
Palestinian FA chairman Jibril Rajoub made the call after a protest outside the Argentinean representative’s office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, saying, “Messi. Don’t come. Don’t whitewash the face of racism.”
The match, which was Argentina’s final game before the Russia World Cup 2018, was set to be played on Saturday at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem al-Quds amid international anger over a decision by the US to recognize the occupied Palestinian city as Israel’s “capital.”
Israel lays claim to the whole Jerusalem al-Quds, but the international community views the city’s eastern sector as an occupied territory and Palestinians consider it as the capital of their future state.
Following the cancellation of the Argentina-Israel soccer friendly, the Palestinian Football Association thanked Messi and his teammates for their decision.
“The Palestinian FA thanks Argentina’s players led by star Messi for refusing to be used to serve a non-sporting goal,” Rajoub said in a statement. “Values, morals and sport have secured a victory today and a red card was raised at Israel through the cancellation of the game.”
Moreover, the Avaaz campaign group praised Argentina’s “brave ethical decision.”
“This proves Argentina understands there is nothing friendly about playing in Jerusalem (al-Quds), when just miles away Israelis snipers are shooting unarmed protesters,” said Alice Jay, campaign director at Avaaz.
Reports said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier called Argentinean President Mauricio Macri to ask him to persuade the team not to suspend the event.
News of the cancellation sparked cheers in Gaza, where over 120 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since March 30, which marked the start of a series of protests demanding the right to return for those driven out of their homeland.
The Gaza clashes reached their peak on May 14, the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Nakba Day (the Day of Catastrophe), which coincided this year with the US embassy relocation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem al-Quds.