Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday slammed Argentina’s national soccer team over the cancellation of a planned friendly against Israel in Jerusalem, calling it a surrender to hate.
“It’s a shame that Argentina’s footballing nobility did not withstand the pressure from Israel-hating inciters,” he wrote on Twitter in the first response from an Israeli cabinet minister.
The Israeli embassy in Argentina earlier announced the “suspension” of Saturday’s sold-out game because of what it called “threats and provocations” against Argentinian soccer superstar Lionel Messi.
“We shall not surrender to a group of anti-Semites who support terror,” Liberman said.
President Reuven Rivlin lamented that the Argentinians had not made efforts to keep sports free of politics.
“The politicization that lies in the Argentinian step worries me greatly. Even at the most difficult of times we made an effort to leave considerations that are not purely about sports off the playing field, and it is a shame that the Argentinian team wasn’t careful to do that this time as well,” Rivlin said in a statement.
The Jerusalem match, which would have been Argentina’s final warm-up game before next week’s World Cup in Russia, was highly anticipated in Israel with tickets selling out in 20 minutes.
“This is a sad morning for fans, including some of my grandchildren,” Rivlin said.
The game, scheduled to be held at Teddy Stadium, located in the western part of the city, drew furious reactions from the Palestinians, who claim the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a first laconic reaction to the cancellation, told reporters, “We’re moving on.”
The sole aim of the opponents of the Jerusalem game, Liberman said Wednesday, was “to strike at our basic right to self-defense and to bring about the destruction of Israel.”
The cancellation would seem to represent one of the biggest successes of the pro-Palestinian Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to isolate Israel. Palestinian boycott groups welcomed the news, saying that Israel had been trying to “sports-wash its crimes against the Palestinians.”
Opposition MKs charged that Netanyahu and Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev were to blame for the cancellation, accusing them of politicizing the game by insisting it take place in Jerusalem rather than the originally planned venue in Haifa.
Responding to the initial reports of the cancellation, Regev said early Wednesday that players had received threats from “terror groups.”
“Since they announced they would play against Israel, various terror groups have been sending messages and letters to players on the Argentina national team and their relatives, including clear threats to hurt them and their families,” she said. “These included video clips of dead children.”