BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) — Argentina’s national soccer team canceled this week’s friendly match with Israel after pressure from the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
After two months of pressure, the Argentinian team’s players late on Tuesday announced the cancellation of the match scheduled to be held on Saturday night at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. The match was to be held just one week before the start of the World Cup in Russia.
Early in April, a boycott campaign sponsored by BDS Argentina was launched using the motto “Argentina don’t go” to Israel, or #ArgentinaNoVayas. BDS stands for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
The Argentine Football Association did not officially announce the cancellation, but the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires tweeted that the match was canceled due to “the threats against Messi that logically generated the solidarity of his teammates,” referring to Argentina’s star forward Lionel Messi.
The Palestinian Football Association, or PFA, last week urged Argentina to cancel the match. PFA President Jibril Rajoub accused Israel of “politicizing sport” by hosting the match in Jerusalem.
When the boycott campaign was first launched, however, the match was expected to be played in Tel Aviv. The venue was later moved to Haifa and then to Jerusalem.
Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev responded that the capital was the appropriate place to play such a prestigious game and quipped that it would give Argentina’s star soccer star forward Lionel Messi a chance to pray at the Western Wall.
On Tuesday, demonstrations against Israel and the friendly match were held in Barcelona, where the Argentinian team currently is holding training camp. The protests included burning Argentine flags and waving blood red tee shirts; similar protests were held in Buenos Aires and Ramallah.
Tickets to the match in Jerusalem sold out earlier this month in under 20 minutes. Many of those interested in the 31,000 available seats were Argentinians living in Israel, according to Argentine media. There are between 80,000 to 100,000 Argentinians living in Israel, according to various sources.
On Tuesday evening, striker Gonzalo Higuain told ESPN that the players had “finally done the right thing. Reason and health come before everything else. We think it’s best not go” to Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Argentine President Mauricio Macri who said that he is unable to influence the final decision.
On Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman lamented the decision on Twitter, saying in a tweet: “It’s a shame the soccer team of Argentina did not withstand the pressure of the Israel-hating inciters, whose only goal is to impinge on our basic right to self-defense and bring about the destruction of Israel. We will not yield before a pack of anti-Semitic terrorist supporters.”
חבל שאבירי הכדורגל מארגנטינה לא עמדו בלחץ המסיתים שונאי ישראל שמטרתם היחידה לפגוע בזכות הבסיסית שלנו להגנה עצמית ולהביא להשמדת ישראל. לא נכנע בפני חבורת אנטישמים תומכי טרור
— אביגדור ליברמן (@AvigdorLiberman) June 6, 2018
“We are horrified that in this game, threats, intimidation and terror was the winner,” the Wiesenthal Center said in a statement Wednesday.
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin also responded to the cancellation, saying in a statement: “It is truly a sad morning for soccer fans, including some of my grandchildren, but there are values that are even bigger than Messi.
“The politicization in the Argentinian decision is of great concern,” he continued. “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.”
In the days leading up to the cancellation of the match, reports emerged that Argentina’s coach did not want to travel to Israel and risk tiring his players more before the start of the World Cup. Rumors had spread that the Israel team might travel to Barcelona for the friendly match instead. In addition, Regev came under scrutiny for allegedly reserving hundreds of tickets for her office’s employees and for working to ensure that she would have a photo-op with Messi.