The euphoria and arrogance the government has displayed since the U.S. Embassy in Israel was moved to Jerusalem extracted its price this week: The friendly soccer game scheduled to take place on Saturday between the Argentine and Israeli national soccer teams was canceled at the last minute because of pressure from Palestinian organizations, foremost among them the Palestinian Football Association, not to hold the game in Jerusalem.
Israel rushed to put into operation the automatic mechanisms of victimization. Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, directly responsible for this fiasco, claimed that the Argentine players received terror threats, saying that "this is the same terrorism that led to the murder of eleven slain athletes in Munich."
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman tweeted that “the knights of soccer from Argentina could not withstand the pressure of the Israel-hating inciters whose sole goal was to damage our basic right to self defense and to bring about the destruction of Israel.”
But the letter sent by Jibril Rajoub, chairman of the Palestinian Football Association, to his Argentine colleague Claudio Tapia before the game was canceled makes it clear that the basis of the request was the obstinacy about holding the game in Jerusalem. Rajoub wrote to Tapia: “The Israeli government has turned a regular sports match into a political tool. As was widely covered in Argentine media, the match now is being played in order to celebrate the ‘70th anniversary of the State of Israel.’”
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Indeed, the game was originally planned to take place in the new municipal stadium in Haifa, but Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev decided to turn the friendly match into a show of political power. Regev forced the taxpayers to fund the game’s change of location, at a price tag of 2.7 million shekels ($760,000), to Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. Regev even took pride that the world’s masses of followers of the star of the Argentine national team, Lionel Messi, would watch the game in Jerusalem (“kissing the Kotel”), and this would be a victory for Israeli public relations “in this period, which is marked by the BDS movement.”
But the cancellation of the game is a harsh blow to Israeli public relations efforts, which have tried time after time to blur the fact that Jerusalem stands at the center of the conflict with the Palestinians, and that the moving of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem has been received with objection by most countries in the world. It seems that the Trumpist spirit blowing from America has made it easier for the government and its ministers to discount such institutions as the European Union, international bodies and foreign governments. Now it turns out that this reckless behavior has tangible consequences.
The farce of the game’s cancellation will force the government to dial back the arrogance in its approach to the hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel next year. One can only hope that those responsible will realize that they have been handed a yellow card and will be wise enough to leave the attempts to normalize the occupation outside the preparations. There is no requirement to hold the Eurovision contest in Jerusalem, certainly not as an act of defiance. Maybe what the opposition in Israel has refused to do, Messi has actually succeeded in doing.