Left, BDS protestor holds Messi’s Jersey covered in “blood”. Right, Messi during his 2013 visit to Israel. (Reuters)
A hotly anticipated football (soccer) game between Israel and Argentina has been canceled mere days before the match after a vicious BDS campaign was waged against the Argentinians.
Millions of Israelis were delighted by the possibility of witnessing Lionel Messi, widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, play live. However, the decision swiftly caught the attention of activists working for the notorious BDS campaign.
As reports emerged last night of the game’s cancellation, Hugo Moyano, second vice president of the Argentine Football Association (AFA) told Argentinian Radio 10 that “the players’ families were suffering from the threats.”
According to reports from Argentinian news sources, Barcelona star Messi and former teammate Javier Mascherano led the calls to cancel the game after their families were threatened. Newspaper Clarin reported, “the threats on Messi swayed him, the mocked-up images of him covered in blood in support of Israel, played a central role in the cancellation.”
The players’ families weren’t the only ones feeling the heat. Argentina’s star player Lionel Messi had been personally targeted by Palestinian football chief Jibril Rajoub, who on Sunday called on fans to burn the forward’s shirt if he appeared on an Israeli football pitch. Fans swiftly turned up outside an Argentinean training session in Barcelona with “blood-drenched” shirts.
The campaign didn’t end there. The following day, Rajoub let the Argentinean FA know that if the game in Jerusalem went ahead, the Argentinian bid to host the 2030 World Cup would be targeted and come under threat.
HOW WILL I TELL THE KIDS?
As news of the story broke late on Tuesday evening, Israelis reacted with disbelief. With thousands of tickets given away to football-crazy children from broken homes and needy families in rural communities, impoverished towns, there was a tangible sense of dismay. Many tickets had been given away free of charge to charities for children for special needs. “These kids have been looking forward to the game all month, especially since they heard we got them tickets,” said one program director. “I don’t know what to do now. I don’t have the heart. How will I tell the kids that their idol has canceled at the last minute?”
Rajoub, a convicted terrorist who spent time in Israeli jail for throwing a grenade at an IDF jeep in the Judean city of Hebron, has repeatedly sought to use sport to attack Israel. In 2015 he waged a campaign calling on FIFA, the international soccer body, to remove Israel from its membership. He has also had a fencing competition named after an arch-terrorist responsible for the deaths of over a dozen Israelis.
Last year, more than thirty bereaved families contacted FIFA to accuse Rajoub of inciting terrorism and calling on Arabs to carry out more Israeli kidnappings. For example, an annual football contest is named after Halil Al Wazir-Abu Jihad, one of the founders of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), who is reported to be responsible for the deaths of 125 Israelis. Another such tournament is named after the “martyr” Abu Sukkar, who exploded an explosives-laden refrigerator in central Jerusalem, killing 15 and wounding scores more.
Israeli commentators swiftly pointed out the duplicity of the BDS movement, which claims to care about human rights, with many asking how come no serious protest has been mounted ahead of this year’s World Cup in Russia, a notorious human rights violator. And Russia pales in comparison to the host of the next World Cup, in 2022: Qatar. As one writer noted, this is a country where women who get pregnant outside of wedlock are jailed, where flogging and stoning are legal forms of punishment, and in which dozens of foreign workers work in atrocious conditions, leading to hundreds dying each year, but BDS activists remain uninterested in their fate.