Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Sports | By Ivan Ross

Palestinians celebrate as Israel denied chance to host Messi

Palestinians celebrate as Israel denied chance to host Messi

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Wednesday that organizers could face increased pressure from the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to cancel various other events in Israel following Argentina's decision to scrap the game.

The United States shifted its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem in May on the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel, in a move met with condemnation from the Palestinians and many of Washington's worldwide allies.

The Argentina about-turn comes amid fierce criticism of the Israeli army over the use of lethal force against Palestinian protesters on the Gaza Strip border during weekly mass protests held since March 30.

Did Argentine soccer superstar Lionel Messi and his family really receive threats, or was that just a story conjured up by pro-Israeli activists?

Daniel Benaim, chief executive of Comtecgroup, the production company that paid the Argentine team more than $2 million to participate in the match, called the claim "a big lie". Many people were hoping to see Messi, one of the game's stars, in person.

Many Palestinians took to social media, initially to protest against the match and then to thank Argentina for its decision to withdraw. But his efforts were unsuccessful.

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Seven of the wounded were in serious condition, the Health Ministry said, in the latest in a series of mass protests to call attention to a decade-old blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt. Isaac Herzog, opposition chairman, said in a statement that Israel scored a "spectacular own goal" for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, questioning claims that Israel's worldwide standing is improving and describing Argentina's decision as "a symbolic failure of a government that is burying its head in the sand, " the Times of Israel reported. He added that their "only goal is to harm our basic right to self-defense and bring about the destruction of Israel".

Palestinian Football Association president Jibril Rajoub penned a letter, obtained by Israeli newspaper Haaretz and others, to the Argentine Football Association last week, encouraging the team to call off the game.

Rajoub had urged Messi not to play in the game in Jerusalem and urged fans to burn shirts bearing his name if he did.

Rajoub has long urged Fifa to expel Israel from the worldwide football federation, citing Israeli travel restrictions on Palestinian footballers and because Israel maintains teams in West Bank settlements.

Last year, Federation Internationale de Football Association deferred action on a Palestinian-led effort to penalize Israel for having teams on the West Bank. Politicized is presumably a polite European term for holding it in Jerusalem, to emphasize that it is Israel's capital.

Following the move, Rajoub spoke with reporters in Ramallah.

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Rajoub had accused Israel of playing politics with the game by moving it from the port of Haifa to Jerusalem.

"I think this is according to Federation Internationale de Football Association statutes and according to their principles and mission to promote ethics and values, and to build a bridge between nations rather than being a tool for political ends", he said, adding: "the Israelis tried to use Messi and those stars from Argentina".

A report by the Argentinian daily Clarín citing official sources said that Macri had consulted with the Argentine Football Association on the issue and learned that "the players don't want to play in Israel because of threats against Messi".

The Argentinean move raised fears that it could lead to future boycotts of Jerusalem.

Regev, who it seems has become extremely bitter by the humiliation has thrown a tantrum and demanded that next year's Eurovision song contest be held in Jerusalem, which appears to be another attempt by the Israeli politician to turn a cultural event into a political statement. He argued that the game should have been played in Barcelona, where the Argentineans have been training ahead of the World Cup.

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