Argentina have cancelled their planned friendly against Israel in Jerusalem following intense pressure by Palestinian and international campaigners heightened by last month’s killing by Israeli forces of dozens of protesters in Gaza.
Israeli embassy has confirmed that the match has been called off, citing threats to Argentina captain Lionel Messi.
“The Israeli embassy laments to announce the suspension of the match between Israel and Argentina planned for next Saturday June 9, as a prelude to the game for the World Cup in Russia,” read a statement.
Middle East Eye reports that the decision was welcomed by Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain, one of the country’s highest-profile players, in an interview with the ESPN television network on Tuesday.
“They’ve finally done the right thing,” Higuain said. “Rationale and health come before everything else. We think its best not go to Israel.”
The Palestinian Football Association also welcomed the decision, and thanked Lionel Messi, Argentina’s star player 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, the president of the PFA, said in a statement.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), the campaign group which had driven the push to persuade Argentina to withdraw, also thanked the Argentine squad in a tweet which said: “Apartheid will not be entertained.”
Argentina has made four previous pre-World Cup stopovers in Israel since 1986. Most countries do not recognise either Israeli or Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem and have their embassies to Israel in the Tel Aviv area.