“The match itself is to take place in a stadium built on one of the at least 418 Palestinian villages destroyed by Israel 70 years ago, Al Malha.”
— Jibril Rajoub in his May 28th letter to the Argentian Football Association
The head of the Palestine Football Association appealed last month before his Argentine counterpart to cancel the match against Israel slated for Saturday in Jerusalem. On Tuesday night, the Argentine Football Association cancelled the game, which was to take place in Jerusalem.
In the letter, the Palestinian soccer official stressed what prompted his protest was the Israeli government’s decision to move the game from Haifa, where it was originally planned to take place, to Jerusalem.
“The original field of the match was Haifa,” said the letter penned by Jibril Rajoub. “However and after political pressure took place from the Israeli government, as it was openly said by Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev, the match was moved to Jerusalem. This is a decision that, given the current context, the Palestine Football Association utterly rejects and condemns.”
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.
In a mammoth victory for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, the squad of Lionel Messi will not be playing in Jerusalem.
By Dave Zirin | The Nation | Jun 6, 2018
“This is major. Though it may not be the first sports boycott . . . one of the most visible teams and renowned players in global futbol has refused to normalize Israel’s national institutions at a critical political juncture.”
— Noura Erakat, human rights attorney and professor at George Mason University
he group Jewish Voice for Peace called it “a watershed moment“ and “the biggest victory for BDS [the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement].” Israeli defense minister Avignor Lieberman seethed that this week has seen a win for “Israeli-hating inciters.”
What spurred such an impassioned reaction on both sides? It wasn’t Lorde canceling a concert and it wasn’t Natalie Portman refusing an award. This time it is the Argentina National Soccer Team saying no to the Israeli state. With three days notice, the renowned squad has canceled a friendly World Cup warm-up match in Jerusalem, a game that sold out last month within 20 minutes of tickets’ going on sale. Now no one will be watching anything.