By Constantine Martin
Argentina’s men’s national soccer team, including FC Barcelona’s soccer mega-star Lionel Messi, has been urged by the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement to cancel its friendly match against Israel on June 9 in Tel Aviv, just one week before the start of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Last week, the Argentine Football Association and the Argentine National Secretary of Sports received a letter signed by the Argentine Committee of Solidarity with Palestine, explaining that the cancellation of the soccer match is meant to “represent the solidarity of values of the Argentine people towards other peoples who are victims of oppression, apartheid and genocide,” according to an article in the Times of Israel.
BDS wants to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law, according to its website.
The boycott arose due to increased attacks by the Israeli army against Palestinian demonstrators. The campaign is using the motto, “Argentina don’t go” to Israel, or #ArgentinaNoVayas to help spread the word about their request for cancellation. The hashtag has spread across social media, getting the campaign international exposure.
Over the last month, at least 32 unarmed Palestinians have been killed and more than 2,000 injured by Israeli security forces during protests along the Israeli-Gaza border.
“We remind Israel of its obligations to ensure that excessive force is not employed against protesters,” Liz Throssell, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement. “In the context of a military occupation, as is the case in Gaza, the unjustified and unlawful recourse to firearms by law enforcement resulting in death may amount to a wilful killing, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
The letter from the Argentine Committee of Solidarity with Palestine calls the BDS movement a tool to pressure Israel, with the objective of changing its “racist policy and violation of human rights.” The letter concluded, “We call on Argentina not to play this game in Israel.”
The friendly match is not under the sponsorship of FIFA, but rather by an agreement between the two national associations. This agreement makes it easier for one side to decide to cancel the match.
“There are a lot of people living in Argentina that are descendants of Palestinian refugees that are putting unnecessary and unsubstantiated political pressure on sport,” said freshman mechanical engineering major Max Mzhen. “I’m sure the friendly will be played as the biggest star on Argentina, Messi, has famously voiced his support for Israel in the past. It’s a shame to see ugly hatred take away from the beautiful game.”
While this match has garnered the most controversy, this is not the first time Argentina has played an international friendly against Israel’s national team. The teams have faced-off five times, in 1973, 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998, all of which were the last matches before that year’s World Cup. The teams tied in their first meeting, but Argentina won the next three matches until losing to Israel 2-1 in 1998, according to 11v11.com.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin admitted a few months ago that he is a long-time fan of Argentine football legends Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona, and hopes Israel can reach Argentina’s level of soccer play one day.
“We need to learn from Argentina, we in Israel are doing everything well, except playing football,” he said.