Analysis: When mixing soccer and Israeli politics becomes Messi

“If Messi came, it would be Messianic. If he doesn’t come, it shows we have a country that’s messy.”

Argentina calls off friendly match against Israel, June 6, 2018 (Reuters)
Politicians from across the political spectrum pounced on the decision by the Argentinean soccer team late Tuesday night to cancel its participation in a game that was set to take place in Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium, five days ahead of the opening of the World Cup.
Some Knesset members called it a victory for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Some blamed the international media for giving the team a false impression that Israel is unsafe.
And many accused the government of losing the game due to its own mismanagement. The critics included leading Likud figures eager to see the shaming of Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev.
The politicians also used their share of soccer metaphors. The Joint List’s Haneen Zoabi said she was happy the Argentineans gave Israel a red card. Her faction colleague Ahmad Tibi said the Palestinians won 1-0 in the 90th minute of the game and that Regev scored an own-goal for the other team.
Yesh Atid MK Haim Jelin mocked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for thinking he could save the game by calling Argentinean President Mauricio Macri, who told Netanyahu there was nothing he could do.
“Netanyahu clearly doesn’t understand how it works in South America,” said Jelin, who was born in Buenos Aires. “In South America, soccer runs the politicians, and not the other way around.”
But perhaps the most correct soccer joke, even if it was the lamest, came from the Likud’s American-born MK Yehudah Glick, who spoke at a Knesset event about Argentina star Lionel Messi, who was going to delight Israelis by visiting the Western Wall when he came.
“If Messi would come, it would be ‘Messianic,’” Glick said. “If he doesn’t come, it shows we have a country that’s messy.”
And indeed, we do. There were so many forces working together to make the big game a success that they ended up overdoing it.
There was the private company bringing the team that had 100 people working on the event. There was a visit by team officials to Teddy Stadium so they could familiarize themselves with the venue.
There was the direct involvement of Netanyahu and, of course, the constant presence of Regev, who insisted on moving the event from Haifa to Jerusalem and bragged on the radio that Messi wanted to shake her hand and not the other way around.
Mixing politics and sports causes problems in any country, as US President Donald Trump’s cancellation of the Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles’ White House visit proved. But that mixture is even more lethal here, where the Palestinians have a minister and wannabe president in Jibril Rajoub, whose main role is lobbying the world to not cooperate with Israel in sporting events.
Argentina’s cancellation sends a wake-up call to the Israeli government, which has less than a year to plan the Eurovision Song Contest – or to stay out of it and let professionals do their job.
Netta Barzilai won this year’s contest by showing the good side of Israel. If the politicians could hide and not get in the way, perhaps Israel will score more cultural and sporting successes.