The Argentina Football Association (AFA) has decided to cancel Saturday’s ‘friendly’ against Israel, which was due to be held at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. After mounting pressure from world-wide campaigns calling on Argentina to boycott the match, Messi and his teammates will no longer come to Israel but will remain at their training ground in Barcelona. They cited ‘safety concerns’ as the reason for the last-minute cancellation.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’s (PACBI) tweet captures the sense of vindication felt by many following the news that the match had been cancelled: ‘The team responded to creative campaigning from fans around the world denouncing Israel’s sports-washing of its crimes against Palestinians’. These have included the twitter campaigns, accompanied by the hash tags #ArgentinaNoVayas and #NothingFriendly, which sought to highlight the damaging effect the game would have by promoting a positive image of Israel abroad.
The outpouring of criticism levelled at the Argentine football team, and Messi, its poster boy, in particular, reached fever pitch earlier this week when Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Association, urged people to burn their Messi shirts if the game went ahead. At the same time, he beseeched Messi not to ‘whitewash the face of racism’.
Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, lamented the game’s suspension that was brought about by ‘Israeli-hating inciters’ and ‘’anti-Semitic terrorist supporters’. Other high-ranking political figures in Israel- Lieberman’s deputy, Eli Ben-Dahan, among them- have implored Netanyahu to take sanctions against Rajoub and revoke his entry permit to Israel. In warringwords, Ben-Dahan denounced Rajoub as ‘a despicable enemy’.
Netanyahu’s call to the Argentine President, Mauricio Macri, could not reverse the decision. The latter said it was outside his control. The Israeli Football Association awaits confirmation of the cancellation from their Argentine counterparts.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates extended ‘its deep appreciation’ to AFA for its ‘clear message’ to Israeli society.