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Israelis Fear Fallout from Cancelled Soccer Match

Political Opponents Blame Regev

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Posted on: 
7 Jun 2018 (All day)
Israelis Fear Fallout from Cancelled Soccer Match
The cancellation of the friendly match between the national teams of Argentina and Israel scheduled to be played at Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek Stadium on Saturday evening was shrugged off by some commentators while others worried about the possible long-term consequences for Israel’s public image and others started arguing about who should be blamed. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters in Paris that the incident would have no ill effects on diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Buenos Aries. “We continue on, friends,” he said.

Later however, at a press appearance in London, he conceded that it was “disappointing and unfortunate” adding he hoped “it would not affect other events” but that Israel “must prepare for the possibility that all kinds of pressure will be exerted.”

According to Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri, the team cancelled its trip to Israel after receiving a great deal of pressure, including death threats, against the players, especially Captain and international superstar Lionel Messi and his family. On Sunday, Palestine Football Association chief Jabril Rajoub, who has served time in Israeli prison for terrorism and murder, issued a statement calling on supporters of the Palestinian national movement to burn pictures and other memorabilia of Messi that they might have if the game was played as scheduled.

“The actions, the threats that have taken place have led us to decide not to travel. My responsibility as president of AFA is to look after the health and physical integrity and safety of the entire delegation and in my role I made this decision,” Argentine Football Association president Claudio Tapia said. “I simply want to apologize to the Israeli community. It’s not against the Israeli community or the Jewish community. On the contrary. I simply think that from now on, I would like everyone to see this decision as a contribution to world peace.”

Meanwhile, in Israel, recriminations for the turn of events centered on Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who announced two weeks ago that the game would be played in Jerusalem instead of Haifa. This is widely seen as having fueled the anger of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) Movement and given rise to speculation that if the game had been played in Haifa instead of Jerusalem the pressure on Argentina to cancel would have been less effective.

“The decision behind the cancellation is because of one reason only, the threats by terror elements sent to Messi, his family and to other players in the Argentina team,” Regev said in response to the accusations against her.

However, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s office announced on Wednesday that it would launch an investigation into Regev’s handling of the situation.

Finally, Kulanu MK Michael Oren, who is a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office dealing with diplomacy, will meet Argentina’s Ambassador to Israel Mariano Caucino on Thursday to discuss the situation and the possibility of a visit to Israel by Argentinean President Mauricio Macri in the near future to smooth over bruised diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“This is a nasty precedent,” Oren said. “It creates a situation where every time there is a high-profile event in Israel – like Eurovision – all you have to do to get it canceled is send a couple of pictures of bloody T-shirts to the participants, and people will be afraid to come. The Argentinean team did not back out because they don’t like Israel, but because they were afraid for their lives.”

 

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