Soccer star Lionel Messi (AP/Victor R. Caivano) (AP/Victor R. Caivano)
Lionel Messi

After facing a vicious anti-Israel campaign, Argentina’s national soccer team cancelled its friendly match with Israel.

By: United with Israel Staff

Argentina’s national football team on Wednesday succumbed to demands by BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) activists to cancel a match against Israel’s national football team in Jerusalem.

The friendly match was cancelled just three days before it was scheduled to take place, prior to the World Cup in Russia, which starts next week.

The team’s star Lionel Messi is reportedly behind the decision.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had reportedly called Argentine President Mauricio Macri twice, urging him to intervene, but was told the issue was out of his hands.

The Argentinian team has been facing a vicious onslaught of protests and direct threats to team players and their families by anti-Israel activists.

The Argentine Committee of Solidarity with Palestine, comprised of several so-called human rights organizations and the BDS movement, presented a letter to the Argentine Football Association objecting to Argentina’s national team playing in Israel, with references to Palestinian footballers allegedly killed by the IDF.

“Had it not been for the international position of boycotting sporting events and the South African economy, [Nelson] Mandela would have died in prison and South Africa might still be a racist apartheid state today,” the letter claimed.

Palestinians Target Messi

Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), had personally targeted Messi and called on him to boycott Israel.

Rajoub implored Messi not to “play a role in whitewashing the occupation” and threatened that if Messi does play in Israel, Arab and Muslim sports fans should burn photos and t-shirts of the Barcelona superstar.

“He’s a big symbol so we are going to target him personally, and we call on all to burn his picture and his shirt and to abandon him,” he stated.

The cancellation came hours after pro-Palestinian activists staged a nasty demonstration in front of the sports complex in Barcelona where Argentina is training for the World Cup. They waved the jersey of Argentina’s national team stained with red paint resembling blood.

According to an Argentinian report, the country’s football association convened to discuss the prospects of the game and raised concerns over the influx of protests against the match and the threats received by family members of the players.

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie told reporters in Washington on Tuesday that the players appear to have been reluctant to travel to Israel for the game.

“As far as I know, the players of the national team were not willing to play the game,” Faurie said, pointing to security concerns stemming from tensions on Israel’s borders and in Jerusalem, AFP reported.

“In the end, they’ve done the right thing and this is behind us,” Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain told ESPN. “Health and common sense come first. We felt that it wasn’t right to go.”

Regarding health concerns, he may have been referring to physical threats made against the team.

BDS Movement Welcomes Cancellation

The boycott movement welcomed the cancellation, claiming the Argentinian team responded to “creative campaigning” and denouncing what it called Israel’s “sports-washing of its crimes against Palestinians.”

Israeli Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev said Wednesday that the players had received threats from “terror groups.”

“Since they announced they would play against Israel, different terror groups have been sending messages and letters to players on the Argentina national team and their relatives, including clear threats to hurt them and on the lives of their families,” she said. “These included video clips showing dead children.”

Hugo Moyano, treasurer of the Argentine Football Association, said that “it’s not worth it. The stuff that happens in those places, where they kill so many people, as a human being you can’t accept that in any way. The players’ families were suffering due to the threats,” he said, according to ESPN.

The game was highly anticipated in Israel, where the tickets sold out within 20 minutes.

The Argentinians are reportedly scrambling to collect the NIS 2.2 million in reparations they now owe the Israeli organizers over their breach of contract.

A Jewish Argentinian journalist told Israel Radio that the episode was actually devoid of politics and that Messi decided to cancel the game because he did not want to make the trip to Israel. The team cancelled a similar visit to meet the Pope at the Vatican.