Israel to file Federation Internationale de Football Association protest against Palestinians over Argentina game

Posted June 07, 2018

Palestinian soccer officials praised Argentina and their captain Messi on Wednesday for calling off the friendly match against Israel, which Israeli officials had moved to Jerusalem from Israel's coastal city of Haifa.

That Argentina was prepared to cancel one of its precious warm-up matches days ahead of the World Cup illustrates the awkwardness of the situation Israel had placed them in.

The cancellation followed protests in support of Palestinian rights.

Israeli daily Yisrael Hayom, considered close to Netanyahu, expressed ire at Argentina with its front-page headline: "They surrendered to terrorism: The game against Argentina has been cancelled".

In the United States, European football is called soccer.

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.

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Regev had insisted on moving the game to contested Jerusalem and was orchestrating a politicised audience with Barcelona superstar Messi.

The dispute has become a full-blown global incident, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling Argentine President Mauricio Macri to urge him to intervene, to no avail. But his efforts were unsuccessful. He added that their "only goal is to harm our basic right to self-defense and bring about the destruction of Israel".

The press in Argentina and Israel reported that the Argentine Football Association was supposed to receive a payment of between two and three million dollars if Messi played. He had called on Arabs to burn Lionel Messi pictures and Messi T-shirts if he played the match. "We are going to send an official complaint to (world football's governing body) FIFA and the disciplinary committee to take action", he said.

Rajoub believes Israel should be punished for restricting movement of Palestinian players, and for forming teams in Jewish West Bank settlements. And Israel's sports ministry said a "negotiation" about the match was underway, perhaps in hopes of salvaging it, but gave no further details.

Football fans and Palestinian human rights supporters had urged the Argentinian team to cancel the match, set to take place in an Israeli stadium built on the ethnically cleansed Palestinian village of Al-Maliha in response to Israel's violent response to peaceful protesters on the Gaza border that left over 120 dead.

Following the move, Rajoub spoke with reporters in Ramallah.

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At the news conference, there was a placard saying "From Palestine, thank you Messi" with Argentinian and Palestinian flags, under a big photo of Rajoub posing with the Barcelona ace.

The US shifted its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem in May on the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel in a move met with condemnation from the Palestinians. He said, "They tried to use sport as a tool for political ends, and for this I think, they failed".

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev.

Argentine media report the cancellation was made due to a series of threats made against Messi and his wife. The fears come as Israel is preparing to host the Eurovision song competition next year. The team management offered to play Israel in Barcelona instead, but considering the vehement anti-Israel views of many Spaniards, that, too, would have turned out to be a disaster. But it is not likely that will happen.

Argentina are in Group D alongside Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria as the country bids to win the tournament for a third time.

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