Israel in uproar over Argentina pre-WC friendly snub
JERUSALEM, June 6, (AP): The sports-crazed nation of Israel was in uproar Wednesday over Argentina’s abrupt cancellation of a World Cup warmup match following pro-Palestinian protests, with some of the country’s leaders accusing Lionel Messi and his teammates of caving to terrorism. Israel was eagerly awaiting the sold-out international friendly scheduled for Saturday night at Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek Stadium and the arrival of some of the world’s best players.
Argentina is one of the most popular national teams among Israelis and fans had been scrambling to get a chance to see Messi in person. But after a fi erce Palestinian campaign, which included images of Argentina’s white and sky-blue striped jersey stained with red paint resembling blood and threats to burn Messi posters, Argentina’s football federation announced it was skipping the event. Claudio Tapia, president of the Argentine Football Association, apologized for cancelling the match but said the safety of the players was at stake. “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 during a news conference in Barcelona, where the Argentine team is training prior to the start of the World Cup next week.
“(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,” he said. “In the end, they’ve done right thing, and this is behind us,” Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain told ESPN.
“Health and common sense come fi rst. We felt that it wasn’t right to go.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Argentine President Mauricio Macri and urged him to intervene, to no avail. Later Wednesday, Israel’s Sports Ministry said a “negotiation” about the match was underway, perhaps in hopes of salvaging it, but gave no further details. “It’s unfortunate the soccer knights of Argentina did not withstand the pressure of the Israeli-hating inciters, whose only goal is to harm our basic right to self-defense and bring about the destruction of Israel,” said Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
“We will not yield before a pack of anti- Semitic terrorist supporters.” The head of the Palestinian football association, Jibril Rajoub, had called on Arab soccer fans to burn Messi posters and T-shirts if he participated. He has long tried to get soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, and the International Olympic Committee to impose sanctions against Israel. Rajoub believes Israel should be punished for restricting movement of Palestinian players, and for forming teams in West Bank settlements. Rajoub had also objected to holding the match in Jerusalem, whose eastern sector the Palestinians claim as their capital.
Although the Kollek stadium is in west Jerusalem, it is located in a neighborhood built where a Palestinian village once stood before it was destroyed in the war surrounding Israel’s independence in 1948. Following the move, he held a press conference in Ramallah featuring a picture of him with Messi and a sign reading: “From Palestine, thank you Messi.” Rajoub had accused Israel of playing politics with the game, by moving it from its original location in Haifa to Jerusalem, and by trying to link it to celebrations surrounding Israel’s 70th anniversary. He called it a victory for “ethics and values” of sports. “They tried to use sport as a tool for political ends, and for this I think, they failed,” Rajoub said.