Argentina cancels Israel World Cup friendly in Jerusalem, Palestinians joyful

As Palestinians celebrated the decision of cancellation of Argentina’s upcoming friendly with Israel in Jerusalem, Israel slams the Argentina’s national football team

The Israeli embassy in Argentina on Tuesday announced the “suspension” of Saturday’s match with its national team, citing what it called “threats and provocations” against Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.

The sold-out game in Jerusalem was hotly opposed by Palestinians, who claim the eastern part of the city, annexed by Israel, as the capital of their future state.

The status of the holy city has come even more sharply into focus since US President Donald Trump recognised it as Israel’s capital. Israel considers Jerusalem its “indivisible” capital.

The Palestinian Football Federation — 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”.

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said before confirmation of the game’s cancellation that he believed his country’s players had been reluctant to travel to Israel for the match.

“As far as I know, the players of the national team were not willing to play the game,” Faurie said.

The status of Jerusalem, always a key sticking point in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, surged back to centre-stage when Trump tore up decades of US policy to recognise it as Israel’s capital in December.

The US 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.

At the same time, Israel has faced fierce criticism over its use of of lethal force against Palestinian protesters on the Gaza Strip border with the Jewish state.

Israeli troops have shot dead at least 125 Gazans since March 30, during protests and clashes along the border over the return of Palestinians to land they fled or were expelled from during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.

Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli last week aired misgivings about having to travel to Israel, noting he preferred to remain in Barcelona, where the team is holding its pre-World Cup training camp.

“From a sporting point of view, I would have preferred to play in Barcelona,” Sampaoli said.

On Sunday, Palestinian football chief Jibril Rajoub urged Messi not to play in the game in Jerusalem and called on fans to burn shirts bearing his name if he did.

Rajoub told journalists he had written to Argentina’s government asking that Messi not take part in the June 9 friendly.

“This match has become a political tool,” he said.

“The Israeli government is trying to give it political significance by insisting it be held in Jerusalem.”

The World Cup kicks off in Russia on June 14, with Messi looking to inspire Argentina to victory. Israel’s national team has not qualified for the tournament.

AFP inputs