Following pressure from Palestinian officials and pro-Palestinian organizations, Argentina has canceled its soccer team’s pre-World Cup friendly match against Israel, which was scheduled for Saturday in Jerusalem, the Israeli embassy in Argentina confirmed in a tweet Tuesday.
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In its tweet, the embassy cited unspecified “threats and provocations directed at Argentina’s striker, Lionel Messi.
On Tuesday, in an interview with ESPN, Argentina’s second striker, Gonzalo Higuain, said Argentina has “finally done the right thing.”
On Sunday, after pleading with the Argentine Football Association and the Argentinian embassy in Ramallah, a city in the West Bank, the head of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril Rajoub urged Palestinian and Arab soccer fans to burn posters of Mr. Messi should the game take place as planned.
A campaign hashtagged #ArgentinaNoVayas, Spanish for “Argentina don’t go” (to Israel), was started in April by the Argentinian branch of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement (BDS).
No official announcement has been made yet by the Argentine Football Association concerning the cancellation of the game, the Israel Football Association (IFA) said in a statement Wednesday. The IFA plans to contact FIFA demanding it takes action against those who “dared to explicitly incite harm against soccer players and worked to thwart a friendly game between the two teams,” the statement said
Originally meant to take place in Haifa, a Jewish-Arab city in country’s north, the game was moved to Jerusalem following a request by the Israeli government. As compensation for the move, Israel paid organizers NIS 2.7 million (nearly $760,00) taken out of its 70th Independence Day celebrations budget, officially making the friendly game a part of its year-round festivities.
The game was scheduled to take place just one month after the controversial symbolic relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The relocation brought about escalation in ongoing conflicts at the Gaza border. Since late March, Palestinians took to protesting near the Gaza fence. Hostilities at these events resulted in over 100 Palestinians dead and thousands more injured, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza. In a column published in the Wall Street Journal in May, Israeli military spokesman Ronen Manelis claimed Hamas was paying civilians to participate in the protests. Israel’s conduct on the matter has been subject to widespread international criticism by world leaders and the U.N.