Messi divorce: 9 things to know for June 6
Israel media review

Messi divorce: 9 things to know for June 6

Israeli reactions to the cancellation of a soccer friendly are anything but: Argentinians were afraid of terror, also they hate us, and it’s Miri Regev’s fault

Argentina's players arrive for a training session at the FC Barcelona 'Joan Gamper' sports center in Sant Joan Despi near Barcelona on June 3, 2018. (AFP/Lluis Gene)
Argentina's players arrive for a training session at the FC Barcelona 'Joan Gamper' sports center in Sant Joan Despi near Barcelona on June 3, 2018. (AFP/Lluis Gene)

1. It’s not totally unexpected that Argentina called off its World Cup warmup match with Israel, with reports of unhappiness among the selecciones and mounting pro-Palestinian protests, but Israelis are still reacting with shock, sadness and anger to the news Wednesday morning.

  • As of this writing, Israel and Argentina have yet to officially confirm the match was called off, amid an apparent diplomatic scramble to save the game. According to various media reports, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at Culture Minister Miri Regev’s urging, called Argentine President Mauricio Macri, but Macri told him there was nothing he could do. The source also tells various Hebrew-language sites that there’s little chance of salvaging the hotly anticipated June 9 match.
  • Haaretz reports that Netanyahu and Macri spoke twice and Macri even tried to convince the Argentinian soccer federation but was told that the players don’t want to come to Israel at all because of threats on star player Lionel Messi.
  • Regev said the Argentine players had been threatened by terror groups, though it’s unclear whether she means actual terror groups or just pro-Palestinian activists. The front page of the populist daily Israel Hayom also accuses Messi and Co. of “giving in to terror.”
  • Both it and Yedioth Ahronoth display a protest from Tuesday in which red-stained Argentina jerseys were waved, with the latter calling it a “protest of hate.”
  • Signals from officials and players seem to indicate the decision was a mix of fear over players’ safety given the threats against them and fear over being made political pawns in Israel’s service.
  • “They were afraid of an attack on, or attempt to attack, Messi in Israel or abroad. That was something they could not take on themselves. And of course some of them hate us and that contributed too,” a senior Israeli official is quoted telling Yedioth.

2. Regev and her insistence on holding the match in Jerusalem, and not Haifa as originally planned, are roundly blamed for the reason the Argentinians got spooked and pulled out.

  • Speaking to reporters at a summit of American countries, Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie indicated that had the game remained in Haifa, it might still be on. Haifa, he says, according to La Nacion, would have been “more neutral.”
  • Israel Hayom reports that officials close to Netanyahu attacked Regev over the move. “What did we need this for?” one is quoted asking.
  • Yedioth columnist Raz Shechnik also bemoans Regev’s insistence on Jerusalem. “Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital… but that doesn’t mean everything connected to Israel needs to take place there. With all due respect to Netanyahu and Regev, but what was wrong with Haifa, a mixed city and symbol of Jewish-Arab coexistence for decades?”
  • Shechnik also warns that Israel may see the same result with Eurovision if it insists too hard on it being hosted in Jerusalem.

3. The Palestinians, meanwhile, are celebrating the cancellation as a major victory for the boycott campaign against Israel.

  • While the protests began well before the game was moved to Jerusalem, its location at Teddy Stadium in Malha allowed Palestinians the chance to remind the world that Malha had once been a Palestinian village, which was depopulated in 1948.
  • Palestinian soccer head Jibril Rajoub had led the protests and called for Messi jerseys to be burned if the game went ahead.
  • On Twitter, Times of Israel Palestinian affairs analyst Avi Issacharoff notes that the saga represents a major political victory for Rajoub. “If anybody was wondering why he wanted so badly to head the Palestinian Football Federation…” he writes.

4. Excitement over the game means that it trumps other news stories of greater impact, like massive fires, apparently from Gazan incendiary kites, that broke out in southern Israel Tuesday.

  • Haaretz and Israel Hayom report that 15 fires broke out Tuesday, while Yedioth puts the figure at 13.
  • Yedioth notes that the army says it knocked down 400 of 600 flaming kites sent skyward by the Gazan arsonists.
  • It also reports that Israel has refused to buy a system that converts army transport planes into tankers for putting out large blazes, which is cheaper than buying a new fleet of supertankers. However, the army has refused since it doesn’t want the job of firefighting, “which means that in the event of a large fire, Israel will again need international aid.”

5. Tuesday — Naksa Day — saw fire kites, but not large-scale protests, with Hamas holding off until Friday.

  • Noting that Friday is al-Quds Day, which is every Iranian’s favorite day to burn Israeli flags, Israel Hayom reports that it “testifies to the fact that Hamas is signaling to Iran that it is at its service, in exchange for money.”
  • In Haaretz, though, Zvi Bar’el writes that Hamas is actually Israel’s partner in Gaza.
  • “Because of the close ties between Egypt and Israel, Hamas finds itself trapped in a security coordination with Israel, just like the Palestinian Authority. This can be seen in the occasional assessments that high-ranking IDF officers provide the government and the media, saying that Hamas is or is not interested in turning up the heat at the moment. The Israeli consideration of Hamas’ rational interests and the coordination of the Israeli response to the organization’s purported interests amounts to a dialogue between partner-rivals, with each side intimately familiar with the other’s thought processes and responding accordingly,” he writes.

6. In Yedioth, columnist Alex Fishman notices a disagreement between Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and the military over whether improving the humanitarian conditions in Gaza can help stabilize the enclave and prevent terror.

  • Whereas the army has pushed for a wide-ranging humanitarian plan as a way to ease tensions, at a conference in Eilat Liberman called those who think that “hallucinatory, spreading illusions, mistaken and misleading.”
  • Fishman reports that comments made by a senior army official to reporters last week about humanitarian aid being used to prevent a new war were not coordinated with Liberman, and angered him.
  • “Any humanitarian process we enact in Gaza will be done because of our commitment as human beings and not from some estimation that it will prevent terror,” Liberman is quoted as saying on Tuesday.

7. Unlike Israel, it seems the US is of one mind about some things in Gaza. After Ambassador David Friedman said reporters should “keep your mouths shut” on Gaza if they don’t know of non-lethal methods Israel can use to prevent protests, the State Department gave him full-throated backing late Tuesday.

  • State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert also said reporters should be clearer about Hamas being responsible for everything wrong in Gaza.
  • “I’m not singling out any of you, but in general, when you look at the situation in Gaza, let’s look at the misery there and what has brought on that misery,” she said. “Has it been brought on by the United States Government? No. Has it been brought on by Israel? We would assert no. Has it been brought upon the people of Gaza by Hamas? Yes, it certainly does. And Hamas has a responsibility to take care of its people, and it does not.”
  • JTA’s Ron Kampeas looks at whether Friedman’s criticism, apparently directed at The New York Times, was fair and finds that no, it’s not, taking this April 5 story as an example.
  • “The writers of the story, David M. Halbfinger and Iyad Abuheweila, seem to do exactly what Friedman is asking: seek out experts on engagement. To be sure, B’Tselem is often highly critical of Israel and often is at odds with the settler movement, of which Friedman was an active supporter. But the question of ‘what could have been done differently or better’ is discussed at length, with substantial quotes from experts who come to different conclusions,” Kampeas writes.

8. Foggy Bottom also responded for the first time to a Times of Israel interview with Friedman in which he said Republicans support Israel more than Democrats, thrust back into the spotlight thanks to ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell also making partisan comments.

  • “Ambassadors have a right to express their opinion. They’re representatives of the White House, whether it’s this administration or other administrations, and we hear them voicing their opinions,” Nauert said. “And they’re sometimes opinions that people may or may not like. And there is a right to free speech as well, so I want to highlight that. Regardless of whether or not you all like it, sometimes these things are what ambassadors say.”
  • Bafflingly, Nauert also cited D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy against Nazi German forces in World War II, as an example of the US-German relationship:
  • “When you talk about Germany, we have a very strong relationship with the government of Germany. Looking back in the history books, today is the 71st anniversary of the speech that announced the Marshall Plan. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the D-Day invasion. We obviously have a very long history with the government of Germany, and we have a strong relationship with the government, and so we want to reaffirm the strength of our relationship with Germany.”

9. The Times of Israel’s Eric Cortellessa takes a look at Ben Rhodes’s new book, finding the ex-Barack Obama aide has little nice to say about Netanyahu, except as a sly political mover continuously stymying the president.

  • “Rhodes argues that Netanyahu assiduously blocked Obama’s efforts to resolve the conflict. That was in part due to Netanyahu’s continual approval to build settlement projects and his reluctance to embrace Obama’s vision of a two-state outcome. But Netanyahu, Rhodes explains, was remarkably shrewd at galvanizing the kind of pressure on Obama that made it politically unfeasible for the president to push forward on his peace plan,” he writes.
  • In the book, Rhodes pinpoints a speech by Netanyahu at the 2012 AIPAC policy conference as the most annoyed Obama ever got during his eight years in office.
  • “It’s not on the level,” Obama is quoted telling Rhodes. “Dealing with Bibi is like dealing with the Republicans.”
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