JERUSALEM, Israel – Palestinian officials are jubilant over Wednesday's announcement canceling the pre-World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Israel scheduled for Saturday evening at Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium.
Teddy Kollek Stadium in Jerusalem, Photo, Wikipedia
The game would have served as Argentina's final match before the team travels to Russia on June 15 for the opening game of the World Cup finals the following day.
Israeli soccer fans of the sport, known here as "football," were looking forward to watching Argentina's star player, Lionel Messi.
Argentinian Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said players and their families were threatened, citing protesters displaying blood-stained shirts at a rally outside the team's practice facility in Barcelona, Israeli media reported.
Hugo Moyano, president of Argentina's football association, confirmed, "The players' families suffered from the threats."
The decision to cancel the match followed a well-orchestrated campaign by pro-Palestinian activists both in Israel and abroad.
Not surprisingly, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement welcomed the decision.
"We welcome news that Argentina's 'friendly' football match with Israel has been canceled! The team responded to creative campaigning from fans around the world denouncing Israel's sports-washing of its crimes against Palestinians," the group's statement read, YNet news reported.
Jabril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Authority's Football Association, urged residents to burn posters of Argentina's star player, Lionel Messi, and t-shirts replicating the team's uniforms.
"This match has become a political tool," Rajoub told reporters in Ramallah Sunday, the Times of Israel reported in a translation from Arabic. "We will act to ensure they [Argentina] will not be able to offer themselves as hosts of the 2030 World Cup," he said, according to the report.
"Messi is a symbol of peace and love. We ask him not to participate in laundering the crimes of the occupation," Rajoub continued, saying Messi "has tens of millions of fans in the Arab and Muslim countries…We ask everyone to burn their shirts that bear his name and posters [of him]."
In 1985, Rajoub was among 1,150 convicts serving time for terror-related crimes released in a lopsided prisoner exchange for three Israeli soldiers held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Rajoub is known for opposing a broad spectrum of efforts to advance peace with Israel, including sports competitions between Jewish and Arab children. He has never masked his support for terrorism against Israelis.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called it a "sad morning for soccer fans."
"It is truly a sad morning for soccer fans, including some of my grandchildren, but there are values that are even bigger than Messi," Rivlin said in a statement.
"The politicization in the Argentinian decision is of great concern. Even in the most difficult times, we made every effort to leave considerations that are not purely about sport off the playing field, and it is a pity that the Argentina team did not manage to do so on this occasion."
Meanwhile, Israel's national football coach, Alon Hazan, said while the cancellation was disappointing, it isn't as important as it seems, YNet quote him.
"With all due respect to Messi, if the match is canceled because it was supposed to take place in Jerusalem, I wish him and Argentina the best of luck. As an Israeli and a Jew, Jerusalem is far more important to me than Messi and Argentina," he said.
"Messi is the greatest of his generation, but Jerusalem is forever," Hazan said.
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