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Human right groups welcome Argentina decision to cancel Israel football match

29th Jun 2018

Elham Asaad Buaras

The decision by the Argentine FA to cancel a friendly match with Israel in Jerusalem earlier this month has boosted the Red Card Israel campaign, which has called on FIFA to expel Israel – as it expelled apartheid, South Africa – due to its violations against Palestinian football and its disregard for FIFA statutes.

The match, which was scheduled for June 9, was set to be played in Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek Stadium but had drawn intense reactions, especially from Palestinians. It also faced boycotts from various groups.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had called Argentine President, Mauricio Macri, late on June 5 in an effort to rescue the match, Haaretz reported, citing sources in Netanyahu’s office.

The original plan had been to stage the match in the northern coastal city of Haifa, at the Sami Ofer stadium where Israel usually hosts international games.

But Israeli Sports Minister, Miri Regev, an outspoken hardliner in Netanyahu’s right-wing Government, launched a campaign to move the venue to Jerusalem.

Speaking to Israeli army radio on June 4, Regev said she had released $694,400 to cover expenses incurred by the venue change.
“Jerusalem is worth every shekel,” she said.

“After we’ve been fighting for embassies to move to Jerusalem, there is absolutely no question.”

According to Spanish media reports, the manager of Argentina’s national football team, Jorge Sampaoli, was opposed to the match from the beginning and the players were also not willing to take part.

The Palestinian Federation in South America stated that the pressure to cancel the game with Israel came from Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and team coach Jorge Sampaoli Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain also welcomed the cancellation.

“They’ve finally done the right thing,” he told ESPN, adding the issue was over now.

The Palestinian FA also welcomed the decision and thanked Messi, a five-time world footballer of the year, who had become the focus of campaigners’ efforts to stop the match, and his teammates for the cancellation.

“Values, morals and sport have secured a victory today and a red card was raised at Israel through the cancellation of the game,” Jibril Rajoub, President of the Palestinian FA, said in a statement.

He added that “the match has become a political tool more than a sport due to Israel’s insisting on having the game played in Jerusalem, which it claims as its capital city.”

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, the campaign group which had driven the push to persuade Argentina to withdraw, thanked the Argentine squad in a tweet which said: ‘Apartheid will not be entertained.’
Pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrated in Buenos Aires and Barcelona against the pre-World Cup match being played in Jerusalem.

Palestinians, who stressed that the match would serve the efforts of Israel to legalize its occupation of Jerusalem, staged protests in many places as well as in Barcelona, where preparation for the game was ongoing.

Palestinian footballer Mohammad Khalil, whose career ended after he was shot by an Israeli sniper in both legs as he peacefully protested in Gaza, had also urged Argentina to cancel the match with Israel.

In March over 130 Palestinian football clubs and sports associations called on German sportswear giant Adidas to end its sponsorship of the Israel FA over its inclusion of football clubs based in illegal Israeli settlements built on Occupied Palestinian territory.

In a letter addressed to Adidas, CEO Kasper Rørsted, the Palestinian clubs cautioned that as ‘the main international sponsor of the IFA, Adidas is lending its brand to cover up and whitewash Israel’s human rights abuses’ and give ‘international cover to Israel’s illegal settlements.’

Former Palestinian national team player Mahmoud Sarsak who was jailed by the Israeli occupation for three years without charge and released only after a 96-day hunger strike and international condemnation, said Palestinian players “are routinely forced to endure Israeli military raids and tear gas on our fields, denied by Israel our right to travel to matches, and have seen our teammates killed and our stadiums bombed.”

He adds, “Palestinian players run this risk every day, as they are forced to go through Israeli military checkpoints. All the while, the IFA holds matches in illegal Israeli settlements, which rob us of our land, water, resources and livelihoods. Adidas’ sponsorship of the IFA prominently places its iconic logo on Israel’s abuses of our rights. The company must immediately cut ties with the IFA.”

Last year Human Rights Watch (HRW) said any lingering doubt about whether FIFA should take action against Israel for holding matches in Israeli settlements in the West Bank should have been erased on December 23, 2016, when the United Nations Security Council voted to reaffirm the unlawfulness of settlements, established on occupied Palestinian land.

“Of the clubs that belong to the Israel FA, an affiliate of FIFA, six are located in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, part of the territory of FIFA’s Palestinian affiliate,” said Sari Bashi, Israel/Palestine Advocacy Director at HRW.

“For the 2 years, the world football’s governing body’s leadership has dodged the decision on their status, opting instead to urge FIFA’s Israeli and Palestinian affiliates to agree on a solution between them, while extending the mandate of a monitoring committee appointed to determine the clubs’ fate. The issue is high on the agenda in Zurich. Any decision other than ending FIFA-sponsored play in the settlements – including further delay – would flout not just international consensus but also FIFA’s human rights responsibilities.”

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