Opinion

Thank You Messi, for Doing the Right Thing at the Right Time

The truth is that Israel has brought this blow upon itself

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev; Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi
Emil Salman; Sergio Perez/Reuters

Late at night, near midnight, there was a collective sigh of relief in the homes of large numbers of decent Israelis. Given the circumstances, there is no choice but to compare that to the familiar cries of joy that emanate from the windows when a spectacular goal is scored thanks to tears in the net in the 89th minute of the game.

We cannot ignore this joy, or be embarrassed about it. The time comes when a person who loves their country understands that it is worth taking a slap in the face to return it to its senses. And it is of course better for that to happen through the cancellation of a soccer game and not due to a surprise attack on the line of fortifications.

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It is of course too early to tell whether the cancellation of the game between the Argentinian and Israeli national soccer teams will be remembered as a watershed event, or just another “small tremor in the wing,” but one whose value is clear: dispersal of the cloud of euphoria, smugness, arrogance and aggressiveness with which official Israel and many of the country's residents have acted in the past month. And even better, this balloon was burst with a sharp stab by Lionel Messi, probably the greatest soccer player of all time.

Messi is a national hero in Israel, the ultimate subject of admiration. It would be hard to label him as an anti-Semitic hater of Israel like Roger Waters. There is also no importance to the question of whether he and his teammates delved deep into political considerations, or whether they just didn’t feel like serving as ornamental marionettes in a boiling and controversial arena just a week before their opening game in the World Cup.

The bottom line is this is a diplomatic and public relations rout. A farce that turned into a fiasco, led by Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, whose lust for power and arrogance has gone to her head, with comments like: “Messi will come and kiss the Western Wall,” and “We’ll see who shakes hands with who.”

As part of the poetic justice, she danced and talked herself crazy on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan at the Celebrate Israel Parade last Sunday, hours before the announcement of the cancellation. Shocked and desperate, she hurried to put frequent-flying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into action in Paris, drawing him into taking an active part in the shame. It was hard not to smile with satisfaction in the face of his efforts to lobby the president of Argentina, who was forced to explain to Netanyahu that in his civilized country the soccer federation is an independent body and the government cannot give it orders. (After all, what good is a national team if we can’t control it?)

Argentina has never been known as a shining example of democracy or as a bastion of human rights, but this time it had the honor of doing the right thing at the right time: to say “no more.” To collect a small price from a small country that has become confused and believes it can do anything it wants.

The provocative bombings in Syria, the arrogant photos in the skies over Beirut; Netanyahu’s nuclear-archives binders performance that stuck a finger in Tehran’s eye; celebration of the cancellation of the nuclear agreement; the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem; diplomatic paralysis; and above all the mass killing and wounding of protesters along the border fence with the Gaza Strip – without apologizing or even being sorry – while the masses are dancing in the town square in honor of the Eurovision victory, and the Supreme Court provides official authorization for the rules of engagement. Someone had to interfere a little with the normalization of the occupation and its banalization of the blockade, and certainly with the gross politicization of sport and the chutzpah of moving the game to Jerusalem.

Now Regev is crying about the “threats by Palestinian organizations,” and in the media that serve as Netanyahu’s mouthpiece they are mourning over the fact that “Argentine surrendered to terrorism.” But the truth is that their Israel has brought this blow upon itself.

In the meantime, Jibril Rajoub has hurried to make it clear that the Palestinians would not have had a problem if the game against Argentina had taken place in Haifa as planned, and the European Broadcasting Union has already warned that the Eurovision contest will not allow any political interference and its being held in Jerusalem is in doubt. This seems to be the only language they understand here. So, even though our hearts go out to those who wasted their money on scalped tickets at exorbitant prices, we have no choice but to say: Thank you, Messi.