JERUSALEM – Threats against Argentina and Barcelona superstar Lionel Mesi have resulted in the cancellation of a pre-World Cup friendly between Israel and Argentina in Jerusalem.
Israel lashed out on Wednesday at Argentina for calling off the game, while Palestinians celebrated.
The Israeli embassy in Argentina announced on Tuesday the “suspension” of Saturday’s match, citing “threats and provocations” against Messi.
The sold-out game was hotly opposed by Palestinians, who claim the eastern part of the city, annexed by Israel, as the capital of their future state. Israel considers Jerusalem its “indivisible” capital.
The status of the holy city has come even more sharply into focus since US President Donald Trump recognised it as Israel’s capital.
“It’s a shame that Argentina’s footballing nobility did not withstand the pressure from Israeli-hating inciters,” Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman wrote on Twitter.
He said the sole aim of opponents of the Jerusalem game was “to strike at our basic right to self-defence and to bring about the destruction of Israel”.
The Palestinian Football Association — which had urged Messi not to take part — welcomed the scrapping of the game, insisting sport should not “be a tool for politicians and for political extortion”.
“What happened … is a red card from everybody to the Israelis,” association boss Jibril Rajoub said at a press conference, sitting next to a sign reading “From Palestine thank you Messi”.
Israeli media said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called Argentinean President Mauricio Macri, with whom he has good relations, in an effort to save the match, but that Macri had said he was unable to intervene.
Netanyahu is currently visiting Europe and his office could not immediately confirm the reports.
Israeli daily Yisrael Hayom, considered close to Netanyahu, expressed ire in its front-page headline: “They surrendered to terrorism: The game against Argentina has been cancelled.”