Argentina's Friendly Game with Israel Sparks Controversy


Rajoub, in a letter last week, accused Israel of using the friendly as a "political tool", and even threatened to campaign against Argentina's bid to host the World Cup in 2030 had the game taken place.

Argentina canceled a World Cup warmup game against Israel's national soccer team, citing unspecified "threats and provocations" against one of the tournament's star players, the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires said Wednesday.

The press in Argentina and Israel reported that the Argentine Football Association was supposed to receive a payment of between two and three million dollars if Messi played.

Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian football association, had called on Arab fans to burn Messi posters if he participated in the match.

According to reports, Argentina was forced to cancel the fixture apparently under pressure over Israel's treatment of Palestinians in Gaza. Thousands more are believed to have been injured during the incident.

Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain, one of the country's highest-profile players, in an interview with the sports television network ESPN on Tuesday welcomed the decision to cancel the match. "Rationale and health come before everything else". "I think it's three or four times now we've been drawn with Nigeria and it will be a hard group", said Rojo.

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

Last month, US President Donald Trump infuriated Palestinians with his recent decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognising the city as the capital of Israel.

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Israel considers all of Jerusalem its capital, while Palestinians want its eastern part as capital of their own state.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also apparently spoken with his Argentinian counterpart urging the national team of Argentina to reconsider their decision.

For more than a decade, they've led an worldwide campaign to boycott Israel as a means to pressure the Jewish state to change its policies toward the Palestinians.

At the entrance to the news conference was a placard saying "From Palestine, thank you Messi" under a big photo of Rajoub posing with Barcelona's star player. It has formed a government ministry whose primary mission is to combat the boycott movement.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed the area in a move that is not internationally recognised.

Argentina has made four previous pre-World Cup stopovers in Israel since 1986.

At least 125 Palestinians have been killed there since 30 March.