Argentina was supposed to play an International Friendly in Jerusalem, against Israel, which was supposed to be a no-stakes warm-up football match, to be played a week before Argentina headed to the FIFA 2018 World Cup. Instead, what was supposed to be a regular clash starring Lionel Messi, became a diplomatic disaster, giving rise to political tensions and consequences in both, Israel and Argentina.
Palestine supporters urged Messi-led Argentina to boycott game against Israel
As reported by LA Times, Pro-Palestinian demonstrators wearing Argentine jerseys stained with fake blood marched on to the team’s training site in Barcelona last week with anti-Israel placards, demanding that the star scorer and skipper of the Argentina team, Lionel Messi, along with his team-mates, should boycott the football game against Israel. “Messi, don’t go!”, they chanted.
Head of the Palestine Football Association urged Muslims to destroy Argentina jerseys.
Then later on in this week, the head of the Palestinian Football Association and a senior Palestinian government official, Jibril Rajoub, released a video in which he burned an Argentine flag and encouraged Muslims around the world to destroy jerseys of the team, which is one of the most successful football franchises in the world.
Argentine Football Association cancelled the game against Israel, cite personal safety as Messi had received threats on social media.
Resultantly, the Argentine Football Association stepped back on Tuesday and canceled the game against Israel that was to take place on 10 June.
The president of the Argentine Football Association Claudio Tapia, said at a news conference in Barcelona on Wednesday, that Messi and other players had received threats on social media, and it was owing to the “health, personal safety and the safety of the entire delegation”, that the decision to cancel the game was made, and not due to any political reasons. Claudio Tapia added and said, “It’s nothing against the Israeli community, it’s nothing against the Jewish community. I hope everyone sees the decision I’ve taken as a gesture for peace. Soccer transcends religion, transcends gender, because everyone plays soccer,” the president of the Argentine Football Association added. “We leave open the possibility of taking joint action in the future in Israel or in other parts of the world.”
The cancellation came in the backdrop of rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions, as in the recent couple of weeks Israeli soldiers killed more than 100 Palestinian demonstrators protesting near the Gaza Strip border.
The Argentina vs Israel soccer game which was initially set to be played in Haifa, was moved by the Israeli government to Jerusalem, as a part of an extended celebration for the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding.
And the soccer game tickets had sold out in an hour. Soon, posters with Messi’s face appeared in the West Bank city of Hebron, with banners reading that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine. On Sunday, the president of the Palestinian Football Association Rajoub released a letter that he sent to Claudio Tapia requesting the game be canceled. It read, “The Israeli government has converted a soccer game into a political weapon.”
In addition, a letter signed by 70 Palestinian youths was also sent to the Barcelona star Lionel Messi, asking the 30-year-old to not play a game in Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek stadium, which they said was built “over our ancestors’ graves” in an area seized by Israel during the 1948 war for independence. And interestingly, the 30,000-seat stadium is well within the borders of West Jerusalem, far from any area claimed by the Palestinians.