A majority of Israelis believe Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev’s insistence on holding a soccer exhibition between Israel and Argentina was a mistake that led to match being scratched, according to a poll released Thursday.
Regev has blamed threats from “terrorists” for spooking the Argentinians and leading to them pulling out the contest, but commentators, officials, and others have pointed to Regev’s insistence on holding the game in the capital and making it into a nationalist showcase that led to a successful Palestinian pressure campaign and increased unease about the match among the Argentinean squad.
The Argentinian team had wanted the match to take palce in Haifa, as originally planned, and Palestinian soccer chief Jibril Rajoub specifically mentioned Regev’s push for the game to be held in Jerusalem in a letter to his Argentinian counterpart urging that the match be nixed.
The survey, published by Channel 10 news, found 61 percent of respondents said Regev should not have insisted on holding the match in Jerusalem, while 28% said she was correct. The remaining 11% did not know.
Some 31%, said the move to Jerusalem was the cause for the cancellation, while 28% believed Regev’s own explanation — that pro-Palestinian activists’ death threats against star player Lionel Messi led to the cancellation.
Another 26% said both factors contributed, and 11% say they did not know the reason.
Argentina’s Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said earlier Thursday that it was the move to Jerusalem in early May that prompted the team to cancel the game.
The survey, conducted by Professor Kamil Fuchs, sampled 765 people of which 615 were Jewish and 150 non Jewish. The report did not detail how the survey was collected.
Regev, who was criticized by opposition lawmakers over the decision to move the match venue from Haifa to Jerusalem, insisted on Wednesday that threats of violence, rather than pressure by Israel boycott activists, had prompted the cancellation.
Also Wednesday, the head of the Palestinian soccer organization Jibril Rajoub insisted the Palestinian objections to the game were only sparked by Regev’s demand the game be held in Jerusalem, rather than the original planned venue in Haifa. He said the minister’s attitude caused it to “turn it into a political event.”
When the location for the match was finalized last month Regev said the capital was the appropriate venue for such a prestigious game and quipped that it would give Messi a chance to pray at the Western Wall in the Old City, located in East Jerusalem.
Although Israel sees all of Jerusalem as its capital city, Palestinians want the eastern part of the city as the capital of a future state. The soccer game was supposed to have been held at the Teddy Stadium in the western Jerusalem neighborhood of Malha.
Regev indicated Thursday she has not given up on her expectation that Jerusalem be the city of choice for international events and threatened to push for Israel to withdraw as host of next year’s Eurovision if political considerations prevent the annual song competition being held in the capital.
Israel won the 2018 Eurovision contest on May 19 with the song “Toy” by Netta Barzilai. According to the annual competition’s rules, the winning country hosts the following year’s contest.
Israel has hosted the Eurovision contest twice before in Jerusalem, a city that most countries do not recognize as Israel’s capital.