The sports-crazed nation of Israel was in uproar on Wednesday over Argentina’s abrupt cancellation of a World Cup warmup match following pro-Palestinian protests, with some of the country’s leaders accusing Lionel Messi and his teammates of caving to terrorism.
Israel was eagerly awaiting the sold-out international friendly scheduled for Saturday night at Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek Stadium and the arrival of some of the world’s best players.
Argentina is one of the most popular national teams among Israelis and fans had been scrambling to get a chance to see Messi in person.
But after a fierce Palestinian campaign, which included images of Argentina’s white and sky-blue striped jersey stained with red paint resembling blood and threats to burn Messi posters, Argentina’s football federation announced it was skipping the event.
In the end, they’ve done right thing, and this is behind us,” Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain told ESPN. “Health and common sense come first. We felt that it wasn’t right to go.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Argentine President Mauricio Macri and urged him to intervene, to no avail.
“It’s unfortunate the soccer knights of Argentina did not withstand the pressure of the Israeli-hating inciters, whose only goal is to harm our basic right to self-defence and bring about the destruction of Israel,” said Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman. “We will not yield before a pack of anti-Semitic terrorist supporters.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said it was a sad morning for Israeli sports fans, including his own grandchildren. “But there are values that are greater than even Messi.
The politicisation of the Argentinean move worries me greatly,” he said.Opposition figures, however, accused Israel’s headline-seeking sports minister of bringing on the politicisation of the sporting event by insisting on moving the game from Haifa to contested Jerusalem and by trying to orchestrate a politicised photo-op with Messi.—AP