The Argentines didn’t want to play an exhibition match in Israel in the first place, but would have come to Haifa. Then Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev moved in.
The move to Jerusalem and marking the game as part of Israel’s 70th-birthday celebrations gave legitimization to Israel’s opponents. They didn’t score a single goal but Regev did — an own goal, perhaps the most spectacular one in Israeli soccer history.
Argentine President Mauricio Macri is a friend of Israel, and of the large Jewish community in Buenos Aires. But even he, a former president of the Argentine soccer club Boca Juniors, knows that in any properly run country politicians don’t meddle with national soccer. (Not that Argentina is entirely a properly run country, but Israel is even less so.)
Such meddling would also break the rules of FIFA, the soccer world’s governing body. That’s why Macri politely declined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to intervene in the decision to call off the exhibition match set for Jerusalem.
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev not only doesn’t get this, but she’s the main culprit for legitimizing Argentina’s decision not to come. If there’s one thing that Israeli governments have been scrupulous about over the years, it has been not to mix politics and sports.
But now Regev has done exactly that, crassly. Not only did she suffer a crushing defeat, but the big losers are the fans who yearned to see Lionel Messi in the flesh. And this criticism has nothing to do with her party, Likud, or her political opinions.