The Jerusalem soccer match between Israel and Argentina was canceled because of terrorism threats against soccer superstar Lionel Messi his family, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev said Wednesday.
In a press conference in Tel Aviv, Regev dismissed claims that the Argentinian soccer team caved to pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, arguing terror threats were the real reason. As evidence, Regev presented posters showing the alleged threats Messi and other players received.
Regev also slammed the Joint List MKs who welcomed the cancellation, accusing them of backing terror. She also took issue with politicians on the left.
"Instead of backing the State of Israel, you are backing terror," she said.
Regev made the case that discourse over Jerusalem shouldn't be political.
"Jerusalem is the source of the Jewish people's pride," she said.
Earlier Wednesday, Israel demanded soccer's governing body investigate what it said were threats against Argentinian players that forced them to cancel a match in Jerusalem, including Palestinian calls to burn replica shirts of Messi if he played.
Knesset State Control Committee chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union), whose committee held a hearing this week on Regev’s behavior in relation to the planned Argentina game, criticized the minister’s statements.
“Instead of taking responsibility on the terrible failure, we heard from Minister Regev lies and fury about everyone else,” Yacimovich said. “No one hurt Jerusalem’s honor and status as much as she did. Regev forced Argentinas team to be part of the 70th anniversary [of Israel] events, and turned it into a show for herself, while enslaving a wonderful and enjoyable event to petty and showy politics for credit. Israel and people who only wanted to enjoy a good game paid the price.”
MK Itzik Shmuly, also of Zionist Union, said that “even her fury, slander and sowing hatred won’t hid the truth. Miri Regev can blame the whole world and pathetically desecrate the names of the victims of Munich in order to explain her shameful own goal that she scored for Israel and the children of the Gaza envelope.
“There’s only one thing she didn’t say: I apologize. My delusions of grandeur and desire to take advantage of the event for my political needs brought this farce,” Shmuly added. “BDS should send a big bouquet of flowers to Miri Regev, who brought them their greatest achievement to this day.”
Palestinian soccer officials praised Argentina and its star Messi on Wednesday for calling off the friendly match against Israel, which Israeli officials had moved to Jerusalem from Israel's coastal city of Haifa.
Palestinian soccer officials say they would have had no issue if the match were held as planned in Haifa, but it should not have been moved to Jerusalem.
"The Israelis tried to use Messi and those stars from Argentina, and I would like to thank them and appreciate their decision, which I think was on the right track," Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub told a news conference on Wednesday in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
At the news conference was a placard saying "From Palestine, thank you Messi" with Argentinian and Palestinian flags, under a big photo of Rajoub posing with the Barcelona ace.
It was a change of tone from Rajoub, who on Sunday had called for Palestinians to burn pictures of Messi and replicas of his shirt if he took the field in Jerusalem.
The Israel Football Association (IFA) accused the Palestinians of crossing a "red line" by inciting anger towards the Argentinian players in order to scupper the match.
"(Rajoub's) aim was to harm our country through soccer," IFA Chairman Ofer Eini said.
"There is an issue of personal threats against players. If a politician publicly calls to burn a shirt, somebody could take it a step further. I don't think that the people who run world soccer can ignore this," he said.
The Palestinians accused Israel of moving the match to Jerusalem to exploit the presence of Messi and other stars to underpin Israel's claim to the Holy City.
Israel considers all of Jerusalem its capital, while Palestinians want the eastern part of the city as capital of their own state. Most countries say Jerusalem's status must be left to be resolved in future peace talks, although U.S. President Donald Trump reversed American policy last year to recognize the city as capital of Israel.
Zeev Elkin, a senior Israeli cabinet minister, said on Army Radio that holding the match in Jerusalem was a matter of national pride. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement "the politicization of Argentina's move is very worrying."
The Labor party said in response to Regev's remarks: "It is surprising to us that Regev, who has been busy throughout her term in her Likud primaries campaign - while squandering public funds - [being a] member in the government that allows Hamas to burn the south, and only today dropped a bill to close the terror breaches in the security fence.
"The was never a minister in Israel whose public relations passion has so severely damaged the status of Israel and Jerusalem," the statement said.
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