Israel has tried to discredit the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for years claiming it is anti-Semitic. Now, after the Argentine Football Association (AFA) announced it would not play the “friendly” game with Israel in the occupied city of Jerusalem, Israeli officials are diverting attention to alleged “threats and provocations directed at Lionel Messi.”
In the face of the growing popularity of the BDS movement, which aims to end Israel’s half-a-century-long occupation of Palestine, Israel continues to play the dehumanizing terrorism card.
According to the Isreali narrative, Argentine players did not refuse to play in response to Israel’s murder of over 120 Palestinians demonstrators in Gaza, or in response to what human rights groups call a shoot-to-kill-or-maim-policy. No. They refused to play in Jerusalem because Palestinians are “violent” and “threatening.” Even more so than ISIS.
Argentina’s foreign minister Jorge Faurie upholds the same narrative. In a recent radio interview, Fauri said the team was unsettled by “a series of threats that came via the internet.” A sports journalists confronted him, reminding him Messi had previously dismissed ISIS threats on the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Fauri suggested that these internet threats were worse, but no one has provided evidence of the threats.
Israeli sports minister Miri Regev showed images of a Spanish protester holding an Argentine shirt splattered with red paint and called it a “form of terrorism.” The shirt was accompanied with a message “Argentina don’t go. Don’t stain the shirt with blood.”
Minister Regev is the same person shown in a video laughing as football fans around her sang “may your village burn!” during a football match in Jerusalem.
The other images she showed were of Messi standing up to an Israeli referee-soldier, of the Argentine team with the word “APARTHEID” behind them, of street protests in Argentina and of Gazan footballer Mohammed Khalil Obeid who was shot in his both knees by an Israeli sniper during the Great March of Return protests.
As part of the campaign Mohammed published a video on May 15 pleading to the Argentine team and its captain Lionel Messi “to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and boycott the scheduled game with Israel.”
The video shows Mohammed filming near the Gaza-Israel fence and being shot by a sniper while posing no threat to the soldiers.
Under the hashtag #NothingFriendly campaigners highlighted Israel’s human rights abuses and wanton killing of Palestinian demonstrators.
Later, in a letter to his Argentine counterpart, the Palestine Football Association president Jibril Rajoub said “the Israeli government has turned a regular sports match into a political tool, (it) is now being played in order to celebrate the ‘70th anniversary of the State of Israel,’ and the match itself is to take place in a stadium built on one of the at least 418 Palestinian villages destroyed by Israel 70 years ago, Al Malha.”
Player Gonzalo Higuain said in an interview with ESPN “I think at the end we were able to do the right thing.”
AFA’s president Claudio Tapia said today “I hope everyone understands this decision I made as a contribution to world peace.”
No other player has made public statements but the decision was announced after protesters in Barcelona gathered outside the team’s training grounds and demanded they cancel the game, citing Israeli policies and crimes against Palestinians.
BDS is a non-violent movement inspired by the boycott campaigns against apartheid South Africa in the nineties.
Despite Israel’s aggressive international lobbying to ensure BDS activists are sanctioned, in recent months Palestinians and the international solidarity movement have celebrated great victories.
High-profile artists like Shakira, Gilberto Gil, and Natalie Portman have refused to travel to Israel citing concerns over the current situation, and European cities like Barcelona and Florence have endorsed calls for an arms embargo against Israel.