Minister rejects claims that Israel ‘politicized’ soccer game with Argentina

Jerusalem Affairs Minister and candidate for the upcoming Jerusalem mayoral election Ze’ev Elkin rejected claims that “politicization” of the exhibition soccer game with Argentina caused the cancellation.

By: World Israel News Staff

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin rejected the claim against Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev that her politicization of the exhibition game between Israel and Argentina, including the decision to move it from Haifa to Jerusalem, resulted in its cancellation.

“I am dumbfounded by the reactions. There are many people who are trying to take advantage of this situation to advance their own narrow political agenda,” Elkin told Army Radio Wednesday.

“Jerusalem is not Miri Regev’s personal cause, it should be important to all of us,” he said. “Where is our national pride?”

President Reuven Rivlin blamed Argentina for allowing political considerations to influence into their decision and for caving in to the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.

“Argentina’s politicization is very worrying,” Rivlin said. “It’s a pity the Argentine national team did not leave political considerations aside.”

In contrast, Shelly Yachimovich, a Member of Knesset from the opposition Zionist Union party, blamed Regev for politicizing the exhibition game with Argentina by, among other things, demanding that it take place in Jerusalem rather than Haifa, as originally planned.

“Regev transformed the Israel-Argentina game into a political event as well as a PR event for Miri Regev,” Yachimovich charged. “If an event is promoted this way, this is the result.”

Before the cancellation, Regev said that the arrival of the Argentinian national soccer team and its most famous player, Lionel Messi, would help Israeli hasbara (public diplomacy).

Regev also dismissed reports that the soccer star would refuse to shake hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and government ministers.

Messi will come “to kiss the Western Wall,” Regev said. “We will wait and see who shakes hands with whom.”

“I understand all the excitement over Messi, I understand the affection and Israelis’ desire to be a part of this game. If only we had a stadium that could hold the thousands who want to come see the game,” Regev said, referring to the decision to host the game in Jerusalem and not in Haifa’s Sami Ofer stadium.

“What would have happened in Haifa is just not interesting at all. When Messi and the Argentinian national team come to Israel before the World Cup, it is clear that they will play in Jerusalem,” she stated.

“It is truly a sad morning for soccer fans, including some of my grandchildren, but there are values that are even bigger than Messi.

President Reuven Rivlin issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying, “The politicization in the Argentinian decision is of great concern. Even in the most difficult times, we made every effort to leave considerations that are not purely about sport off the playing field, and it is a pity that the Argentina team did not manage to do so on this occasion.”