In a development hailed as a win for human rights and the boycott movement, Argentina on Tuesday canceled a controversial exhibition soccer match against the Israeli national soccer team scheduled to take place in Jerusalem.
"Congratulations to all the activists around the world who helped make this happen!" tweeted the U.S.-based group Jewish Voice for Peace.
Argentine player Gonzalo Higuaín told ESPN, "We believe that the right thing to do was not go."
The pre-World Cup "friendly" match was scheduled for Saturday at Teddy Stadium, located in West Jerusalem. As Haaretz reports, it "was originally slated to be played in Haifa but Israeli authorities contributed funding for it to be moved to Jerusalem, irking Palestinians further following U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of the city as Israel's capital."
The South American team and its star captain Lionel Messi, in particular, had been targeted by campaigners to call off the game. A petition cited "Israel's long record of human rights abuses, on and off the field," and also referenced the recent Israeli sniper shooting of Palestinian soccer player Mohammed Khalil while he was peacefully protesting during the March of Great Return.
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Welcoming Argentina's decision, Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), said that taking part in the match "would have been extremely unfriendly to human rights! Playing with an apartheid state is a form of complicity, magnified by Israel's recent horrific massacre in Gaza against unarmed protesters demanding their basic freedom, dignity, and UN-stipulated refugee right of return."
According to Barghouti, the match "was all part of the Israeli apartheid regime's sports-washing policy to use international sporting events to cover up its war crimes and egregious human rights violations against Palestinians. The fact that Argentina fans and human rights activists around the world succeeded in thwarting it gives us a lot of hope."
BREAKING: We welcome news that @Argentina's "friendly" football match with Israel has been canceled! The team responded to creative campaigning from fans around the world denouncing Israel’s sports-washing of its crimes against Palestinians. @FIFAcom: Take note! #NothingFriendly pic.twitter.com/9ZdFYy32ke— PACBI (@PACBI) June 5, 2018
The Palestinian Football Association also welcomed the development. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, reacted by saying, "there is the possibility that there will be pressure to cancel other events in various areas and we will do as we see fit."