Dispute Over Jerusalem Scuttles Israeli Club's Soccer Match With Barcelona

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Moshe Hogeg, the owner of Israel's Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, speaks in an interview at the team training ground, last year.
Moshe Hogeg, the owner of Israel's Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, speaks in an interview at the team training ground, last year.Credit: Ariel Schalit/AP

Beitar Jerusalem owner Moshe Hogeg announced on Thursday the cancellation of an upcoming soccer match between his team and FC Barcelona, citing the Spanish club’s demand that the exhibition game not be held in Jerusalem, following Palestinian demands.

In a Facebook post, Hogeg, who described himself as “a proud Jew and Israeli,” as well as a Barcelona fan, explained that he was opposed to “the unequivocal demand that the game not take place in the capital, Jerusalem” and that he could not bring himself to “betray” the city.

“I'm not angry with Barcelona, they are not a political club and have no interest in taking part in our conflict here, our relationship will continue to be good,” he wrote, adding that he had made his decision in consultation with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion.

Lion, who said that he “unreservedly” supported Hogeg, decried efforts to boycott events in the city.

In recent weeks, Jibril Rajoub, chairman of the Palestinian Football Association, has called on FIFA to oppose the game, claiming that Jerusalem is a city divided according to international law, that Beitar Jerusalem is a racist club, and therefore demanded that the game not take place in Jerusalem. 

While the Palestinians do not have the right to tell teams who they can play against, “we have the right to oppose the choice of Jerusalem as the place to host the game,” he wrote.

Joint List MK Sami Abu Shehadeh also demanded the FC Barcelona not play in Jerusalem. In a letter to team president Joan Laporta, the lawmaker wrote that Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium had been built over an “ethnically cleansed and destroyed Palestinian village” and that Beitar Jerusalem represented the “most extremist, racist and fascist segments of Israeli society.”

Beitar is supported by many on the far-right, including the militant La Familia fan organization, which is noted for its involvement in racist violence.

In his Facebook post, Hogeg – who recently cancelled a planned sale of a fifty percent stake in the team to an Emirati businessman over concerns regarding major discrepancies between the sheikh’s declaration of assets and what he actually owns – wrote that he had “fought a bitter war against racism” since buying the team and “will continue to fight against it.”

This is not the first time that a football match with a foreign club has been cancelled over the issue of Jerusalem. In 2018, the Argentine Football Association called off a game following "political pressure" by then-Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev after it was moved to Jerusalem from Haifa.

Argentine media reported that the reason for the cancellation was a series of threats made against star player Lionel Messi and his wife. Argentine sports daily Olé reported that the match was canceled following "threats and controversy.”

Then, as now, Rajoub urged the Argentine Football Association to call off the game, asserting that the Israeli government wanted to move the game to Jerusalem to use the match to help celebrate the country’s 70th birthday.

Before its cancellation, Rajoub had urged fans to burn pictures of Messi and replicas of his shirt if he played in the match.

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