Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, under fire over the cancellation of a soccer match between the Israeli and Argentinian national teams, claimed vindication Wednesday after FIFA launched disciplinary proceedings against Palestinian Football Association head Jibril Rajoub for alleged incitement.
Regev had blamed threats from “terrorists” for spooking the Argentinians and leading to them pulling out of the match, which was to have been held last Saturday night. However, 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 and increased unease about the match among the Argentinean squad and, ultimately, a successful Palestinian pressure campaign.
Standing at the Knesset podium, Regev said that FIFA’s decision to investigate Rajoub for incitement backed up her version of events.
The Israel Football Association last week filed a complaint against Rajoub and the Palestinian Football Association over Rajoub’s conduct ahead of the match, which included calls for posters and jerseys of star Lionel Messi to be burned, as well as a threat to thwart Argentina’s bid to host the World Cup in 2030.
Regev denied there was any connection between the cancellation and the fact that the game was moved from Haifa, where it was originally slated to take place, to Jerusalem.
Labor MK Nachman Shai challenged the minister, saying her decision to move the match had itself politicized the event.
Regev lashed out at Shai, saying there was never any agreement to hold the game in Haifa.
She also berated Shai and the other opposition MKs, comparing them to the Hamas terror group.
“Instead of saying, ‘We’ve had enough of mixing politics and sport,’ you give support to Rajoub,” she said. “Hamas was also quick to congratulate the Argentina team [for cancelling the match]. There is no doubt that the left has chosen good friends.”
Regev also said the opposition was harming Jerusalem, unlike the US, which understood the city’s significance.
Her claim that Haifa was never an option was contradicted by Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie, who said last week that his ministry was concerned when the match was transferred from the northern city to Jerusalem.
“The Foreign Ministry did not intervene in the organization of the match,” Faurie told Argentine radio station Mitre. “We were not the ones who decided the venue or who made the decision to transfer the game from Haifa to Jerusalem.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while stopping short of blaming Regev, one of his closest allies, said last week that it was she who wanted the match moved to the capital.
“I didn’t request or ask that the game be moved to Jerusalem. I don’t know the efforts that were made. Miri Regev asked, but didn’t demand, for the game to be moved to Jerusalem,” he said.