Palestinians are celebrating the news that Argentina – and its star Lionel Messi – will not be playing the “friendly” football match that had been set for Jerusalem in the coming days.
The cancellation is a huge blow to Israel and came after an intense campaign by Palestinians and their supporters, especially in Latin America and the Spanish state, urging Argentina not to help Israel whitewash its most recent massacres of unarmed civilians in Gaza.
“We welcome news that Argentina’s ‘friendly’ football match with Israel has been canceled,” PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, stated. “The team responded to creative campaigning from fans around the world denouncing Israel’s sportswashing of its crimes against Palestinians.”
BREAKING: We welcome news that @Argentina's "friendly" football match with Israel has been canceled! The team responded to creative campaigning from fans around the world denouncing Israel’s sports-washing of its crimes against Palestinians. @FIFAcom: Take note! #NothingFriendly pic.twitter.com/9ZdFYy32ke— PACBI (@PACBI) June 5, 2018
Activists in Catalonia, home to Messi’s club side Barcelona, hailed the news as a “victory.”
Israel’s culture and sports minister, the far-right politician Miri Regev, accused “terror groups and BDS” – a reference to the grassroots boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign for Palestinian rights – of being behind the cancellation, and expressed hopes Argentina would still change its mind, The Times of Israel reported.
Lately, Jibril Rajoub, the Palestinian Authority-aligned head of the Palestinian Football Association, also urged Argentina to abandon the match.
#BREAKING | A new, remarkable achievement for #BDS!— Quds News Network (@QudsNen) June 5, 2018
Argentina's Soccer Association cancels the friendly soccer match between Argentina and "Israel", planned to be held in occupied #Jerusalem soon, in response to BDS pleas! pic.twitter.com/uavJEMnXKd
“The right thing”
In the first public statement by a member of the Argentina squad, Gonzalo “El Pipa” Higuaín, who is also a star striker for top Italian club Juventus, told ESPN that “the right thing was not to go to Israel.”
Left-wing Argentinian lawmaker Gabriel Solano also welcomed the decision, tweeting, “the ball will not be stained with Palestinian blood.”
Solano added that the cancellation was a blow to the government of Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri “which had imposed [the match with Israel] on the squad as part of its agreements with the criminal Netanyahu.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally called Macri on June 6 in an effort to reverse the decision.
But according to Israeli media, the Argentinian leader told Netanyahu “that he has no influence on the decision whether or not to hold the game as scheduled.”
Argentina’s cancellation is an enormous slap to Israel’s confidence that it would be able to continue killing Palestinians in Gaza, among other war crimes, without paying any price.
While it spills Palestinian blood, Israel expends enormous resources to use sporting and cultural events to sell itself as an attractive and progressive country.
Palestinians are determined to counter this by persuading artists, academics and athletes to stay away from Israel, just as international figures did during the campaign against apartheid in South Africa.
A sports boycott was a major part of that campaign.
In an effort to spin a big defeat, Israel’s propaganda apparatus has begun spreading claims that Argentina players had received “threats.”
But the unpalatable reality for Israel is that Argentina’s cancellation comes amid a wave of new support for BDS since Israel’s killings of more than 100 Great March of Return participants that Amnesty International has dubbed a “murderous assault.”
This includes cancellations of Israel gigs by high-profile performers Gilberto Gil and Shakira, and dozens of independent bands announcing that they will respect the boycott.
The grassroots campaign included a direct appeal to Messi and his teammates from Palestinian footballer Muhammad Khalil Obeid.
Israeli snipers shot Obeid in both of his knees, ending a promising football career, during the first Great March of Return rallies near the Gaza-Israel boundary on March 30. Obeid’s call was supported by protests from Buenos Aires to Barcelona.
[Reposted from The Electronic Intifada.]