Palestinians Urge Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez to Cancel “Friendly” Match in Israel
November 11, 2019—The Argentina and Uruguay national football teams have confirmed a friendly match in Israel on November 18. The classic South American rivalry, known as the Clásico del Río de la Plata, has pitted the two teams against each other for over 100 years.
Last year, Argentina cancelled a friendly match in Jerusalem following letters from Palestinians, a huge outpouring on social media and actions on the ground in Buenos Aires and in Barcelona where the team was training.
Alia Malak of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) said:
Like much of the world, Palestinians love football. Holding a “friendly” match between two beloved teams in Israel while it continues its decades-long illegal military occupation and apartheid regime that denies Palestinians, including athletes, their basic human rights, is an affront to football fans in Palestine and across the world. It sullies the beautiful game.
Israel has bombed Palestinian sports stadiums, detained, imprisoned, maimed and killed Palestinian athletes, raided Palestinian sports associations and destroyed playing fields.
Holding international sporting events in Israel amounts to sports-washing its grave violations of Palestinian human rights, as it allows Israel to use the prestige of championship athletes to cover up its ongoing crimes.
Judging by the hoops the Argentina and Uruguay football associations have jumped through to make this match happen, including Argentina cancelling an already scheduled match with Paraguay, they are in it for the money. Along with that cash reward, however, comes being shamefully complicit in Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. Is this bribery really worth it?
Celebrated US football players have refused to allow their fame to be used by Israel to cover up its attacks on Palestinian sports and life.
Argentina and Uruguay players, including stars Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez, must use their influence to stop this match in Israel before their teams end up in the permanent record of history books as those who instead cashed in on what Nelson Mandela called the “greatest moral issue of our time.”
- Top Gaza Premier League club Khadamat Rafah wrote to Argentina and Uruguay urging both teams “not to allow the beautiful game to be used as cover for gross human rights violations” and to cancel the match in Israel. Israel denied Khadamat Rafah permits to travel for the 2019 Palestine Cup, forcing cancellation of the Palestinian football championship.
- Gaza is home to the Palestinian Amputee Football Association, founded in March 2018. It now has seven team and 80 players, most of whom lost limbs due to Israeli army sniper fire at peaceful protesters participating in the Great Return March demanding basic human rights. For the amputees, playing football is a form of resistance and a way to continue to play their beloved game.
- Balata Football Club also urged Argentina and Uruguay to cancel the “friendly” match in Israel, recalling the crucial role that sports boycotts played in ending apartheid rule in South Africa. Balata FC was founded in the 1950s in the severely overcrowded Palestinian refugee camp of Balata in the occupied West Bank, where 27,000 people live in just 0.25 square kilometers.
- Argentina was initially scheduled to play against Paraguay in Bangladesh on November 18. When talk of the match in Israel on November 19 surfaced, the president of the Paraguay Football Association stated, “When you sign a contract, you validate the contract. That contract must be respected. In the event it is not respected, we will take appropriate action.” Days later, on October 28, Paraguay announced the match with Argentina had been canceled.
- The date for the Argentina Uruguay match in Israel was confirmed by both national teams for November 19. The Israel Football Association, which includes teams in illegal Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land in violation of international law, complained that the date coincided with Israeli national team matches. The Argentina Uruguay match date was then changed to November 18.
- Israel’s Comtec Group is organizing the friendly match. The Israeli production company features Golan Heights Winery, a company located in an illegal settlement in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, as one of its clients.
- Sylvan Adams, a Canadian billionaire real-estate magnate and self-proclaimed ambassador for Israel, is reportedly covering a significant sum toward the costs of organizing the match. Adams has stated that he is dedicating the current chapter of his life to “the promotion of what I call 'normal Israel,'” to deflect attention from Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights and international law.
- Adams and Comtec have teamed up to bring whitewashing events to Israel, including Madonna to the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, the 2018 Big Start of the Giro d’Italia cycling race and a failed attempt to bring the 2019 Miss Universe Pageant to Israel.
- The Argentina – Uruguay match will be played in Bloomfield Stadium in Jaffa (Yafa), a once prosperous and cosmopolitan Palestinian port city and one of more than 500 Palestinian villages and cities ethnically cleansed of its indigenous Palestinian residents during Israel’s establishment in 1948 on the ruins of the Palestinian homeland.
- Dozens of civil society groups, trade unions, human rights organizations and fan clubs in Argentina and Uruguay are calling on their national teams to cancel the match in Israel.
- At a Barcelona FC training session, Catalan civil society groups made personal appeals to players Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez, who play for Argentina and Uruguay respectively, not to join the match, recalling Maradona’s famous phrase, “the ball can’t be tarnished” (“La pelota no se mancha”). They asked, “Would you have gone to play in Apartheid South Africa?”
- Thousands have written echoing the call from Palestinian team Khadmat Rafah and urging both teams “not to team up with Israeli apartheid.”
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was initiated in 2004 to contribute to the struggle for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality. PACBI advocates for the boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions, given their deep and persistent complicity in Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights as stipulated in international law. Visit PACBI at bdsmovement.net/pacbi and follow us on Twitter @PACBI