The cancellation of the Israel Argentina soccer match following BDS pressure has come as a wake-up call to the Israeli government. Lulled into a false sense of security by the lack of success of the BDS movement, and boosted by President Trump's decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the government pushed its luck too far over the visit of Lionel Messi and his teammates, and ended up with a diplomatic disaster.
From the outset, the venue of the match became a political football. Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon said he preferred Haifa's Sammy Ofer Stadium, which is newer and better than Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium and would bring in more revenue and involve less security costs. Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev, with the backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, insisted that the match must go ahead in Jerusalem, to emphasize its status as Israel's capital.
Trying to keep politics out of the matter, the Israel FA showed Argentinean FA oficials both stadiums and said they could choose. They chose Haifa. But Regev wasn't about to relent and reluctantly the Argentinean FA, presumably tempted by a higher payment, agreed to Jerusalem.
Argentina's coach Jorge Sampaoli had opposed the game in Israel from the start. He had several times put his protest on record, not for any political or even security objections but simply for professional concerns that it would be too big a distraction for the players so close to the World Cup finals in Russia the following week. He argued that the game should have been played in Barcelona, where the Argentineans have been training ahead of the World Cup. He lamented that the Argentinean FA was forcing his hand.
Ultimately, it was the players led by Messi, that compelled the Argentinean FA to back out of the commitment. The personal threats against the players from Palestinians who demonstrated outside the Barcelona training ground with blood-drenched Argentinean soccer shirts proved too much.
Palestinian FA head Jibril Rajoub insisted that had the match been staged in Haifa, he would have not objected. It is difficult to know how sincere he is on this point, or whether he is just stirring up division in Israel by blaming Regev.
The problem seems to be that the minister of sport knows very little about sport in general and football in particular. Had she been following matters more closely she might have understood that the move to Jerusalem, against the Argentineans wish, would be pushing Messi and company too far. On the other hand, maybe she was well advised and thought that the risk was worth taking.
Regev seems to have no regrets. When asked whether the Eurovision Song Contest finals in Israel in May 2019 might now be switched away from Jerusalem, she made it clear that so far as she is concerned, if it is not going to be in Jerusalem, then it might as well not be in Israel. Israel's national soccer team acting coach Alon Hazan expressed similar sentiments when he said that Israel versus Argentina was only a football match, while letting the world know that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel is far more important.
Meanwhile, the Eurovision organizers have been insisting that next year's event is not politicized otherwise it may be moved to another country. Politicized is presumably a polite European term for holding it in Jerusalem, to emphasize that it is Israel's capital. The Eurovision organizers insist that a tender to hold the event is held involving at least two cities. The fear is that individual countries like Ireland, Sweden and others may boycott the contest, if it is held in Jerusalem.
Ultimately, Netanyahu will decide. Speaking from London, he failed to support Regev's "all-or-nothing" approach, insisting that he had never asked for the Israel Argentina match to be switched from Jerusalem.
It is arguably this "all or nothing" approach that has seen the Palestinian movement gain very little ground over the past century. In contrast, Israel has always considered compromise and pragmatically taken what was on offer. Certainly in the case of the Israel Argentina match, Regev went for the lot and ended up with nothing. Will the Eurovision final suffer the same fate?
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 7, 2018
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