Israel Angry over Argentina’s Cancellation of Football Match

Lionel Messi

They chose Haifa. But Regev wasn't about to relent and reluctantly the Argentinean FA, presumably tempted by a higher payment, agreed to Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Football Association opposed the game from the start, and blamed Regev for the move to Jerusalem and what they called the ensuing "disaster".

Under the hashtag #NothingFriendly campaigners highlighted Israel's human rights abuses and wanton killing of Palestinian demonstrators. But his efforts were unsuccessful.

Rajoub had urged Messi not to play in the game in Jerusalem and urged fans to burn shirts bearing his name if he did.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman tweeted that "the knights of soccer from Argentina could not withstand the pressure of the Israel-hating inciters whose sole goal was to damage our basic right to self defense and to bring about the destruction of Israel". He has long tried to get soccer's world governing body, FIFA, and the International Olympic Committee to impose sanctions against Israel.

Late Wednesday, Israel's Sports Ministry said that a "negotiation" about the match was underway, but gave no other details. Lulled into a false sense of security by the lack of success of the BDS movement, and boosted by President Trump's decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the government pushed its luck too far over the visit of Lionel Messi and his teammates, and ended up with a diplomatic disaster.

The status of Jerusalem, always a key sticking point in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, surged back to centre-stage when Trump tore up decades of U.S. policy to recognise it as Israel's capital in December.

At a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Rajoub told journalists he had written to Argentina's government asking that Messi not take part in the June 9 friendly. He had a picture of him with Messi and a sign reading: "From Palestine, thank you Messi". Hoping for a less expensive settlement of the dispute, Tapai reportedly proposed staging two friendly matches in Israel on the condition that they would not be held in Jerusalem.

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"I think this is according to Federation Internationale de Football Association statutes and according to their principles and mission to promote ethics and values, and to build a bridge between nations rather than being a tool for political ends", he said, adding: "the Israelis tried to use Messi and those stars from Argentina".

The World Cup warmup match had been scheduled to take place on Saturday.

Regev claimed "terrorist groups" had made threats against Argentina's players. The fear is that individual countries like Ireland, Sweden and others may boycott the contest, if it is held in Jerusalem.

Though he did not explicitly refer to the 2019 Eurovision song contest, which Israel won the right to host after winning this year's competition, the cancellation of the Argentina-Israel soccer match prompted speculation that anti-Israel campaigners could next set their sights on the competition.

Israeli organizers noted an offer to have the game played in Barcelona instead.

Argentina, led by mercurial captain Lionel Messi, are scheduled to play Iceland's Vikings in Group D in their first World Cup 2018 game at Spartak Stadium in Moscow on June 16.

"I think Messi and the rest of the Argentine team players respected their principles, and I thank them".

Aron Heller reported this story for the Associated Press. George Grow was the editor.

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