Culture minister: Argentina soccer match canceled over terrorism, not a boycott

Miri Regev says friendly game scrapped only due to threats on life of star Lionel Messi and his teammates, assails politicians who blamed her

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev speaks at a press at the ministry offices in Tel Aviv, on June 6, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev speaks at a press at the ministry offices in Tel Aviv, on June 6, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev on Wednesday said the cancellation of a friendly match in Jerusalem with Argentina’s national soccer team was not the result of pressure applied by Israel boycott activists, but was rather a capitulation to terrorism.

At a press conference, the Likud minister also lashed out at criticism of her decision to relocate the match to Jerusalem and likened Palestinian threats against the Argentine players to the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli Olympians.

“The game was canceled for one reason only — threats to the life of the star Messi,” Regev told reporters. “The terror threats against him and his family overwhelmed the world soccer star,” she said, adding that this information came from the producers of the event.

Showing images of some of the threatening posters sent to players and officials from the Argentine team, Regev drew a comparison between the threats and the deadly 1972 attack, when Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and killed 11 Israeli athletes competing in the Munich Olympics.

“These are photos by terror factions threatening Argentina’s team members,” she charged. “This is a new-old form of terrorism which scares, deters and terrorizes athletes. This is the terrorism that causes the Munich attack.”

Regev vehemently denied the prevalent explanation given for the cancellation — her insistence on hosting the game in Jerusalem rather than Haifa — calling that criticism “despicable” and a “lie.”

“It’s not Jerusalem or Haifa,” she said. “It’s not BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement]. These are real threats.”

Argentina’s Lionel Messi looks back during a friendly soccer match between Argentina and Haiti in Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

Regev said Messi had been the one to initiate the match out of his desire to visit the Western Wall ahead of the World Cup.

Messi has visited Israel in the past.

“The Argentinians never objected to holding the match in Jerusalem. It was even borne of Messi’s will to visit Jerusalem, kiss the Western Wall, and make it to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,” she said.

The minister also lambasted members of of the Joint (Arab) List as well as other left-wing lawmakers who she claimed had “rejoiced” in the cancellation. She said they were “giving a tailwind to terror” and said they would “win the world championship in schadenfreude.”

“How much nonsense can we talk all the time? Don’t people here have national self-respect here?” she exclaimed. “I say, this was no disaster. We’ll continue hosting international events and won’t let this prevent us from showing pride and happiness in our country.”

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev speaks at a press at the ministry offices in Tel Aviv, on June 6, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Earlier Wednesday, Argentina’s soccer association officially announced the cancellation of the soccer match, which was to have been held on Saturday night in Jerusalem.

“Unfortunately, we cannot come to Israel in the current situation,” said Claudio Tapia, president of the association, at a press conference in Barcelona, where the national team has been training ahead of the start of the World Cup tournament in Russia on June 14.

“It’s nothing against the Israeli community, it’s nothing against the Jewish community,” Tapia said, adding that he hoped “everyone will take this decision as a contribution to peace.”

Tapia said, “The last 72 hours led us to make the decision not to travel,” stressing that his primary responsibility was to look out for the health and safety of the team.

He apologized to Israelis who had purchased tickets.

FC Barcelona and Argentina soccer star Lionel Messi visits Jerusalem’s Western Wall on August 4, 2013. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Tapia said Argentina had “left open” the possibility of playing Israel in the future, either in the Jewish state or elsewhere.

The sold-out game in Jerusalem, which had been due to take place on Saturday was hotly opposed by Palestinians.

Pro-Palestinian activists staged a demonstration on Tuesday in front of the sports complex where Lionel Messi and the rest of the Argentina squad are preparing. Some waved jerseys of the Argentina’s national team stained with fake blood.

The group that organized the protest said the cancellation of the match was a “gesture of empathy with the Palestinian people.”

“We will remember the Argentine team and Messi because they said ‘Not in our name,'” the group added on Facebook.

AFP contributed to this report.

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