Muslim soccer players from Paris soccer team visit Temple Mount, stir controversy

Some Palestinians harshly criticized the PSG players for “whitewashing Zionist crimes” by coming to compete in a match in Israel.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Three Muslim players from the premier French soccer club Paris Saint Germain (PSG) aroused controversy among Palestinian fans Monday after they visited Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, Hebrew-language N12 reported Tuesday.

Presnel Kimpembe, Abdou Diallo and Idrissa Gueye posted pictures of themselves in the mosque during prayers and standing outside the Dome of the Rock on Instagram and Twitter, including messages such as “God is in control.”

While some reacted positively, saying “God bless you,” others were outraged.

“Did you know that the Palestinians cannot move freely in Jerusalem? Shame on you!” read one claim against Israel.

“You have normalized and whitewashed the crimes of the Zionists and now you are talking about God?” said another.

The players had gone to visit the Jerusalem sites holy to their religion after their team blanked rival Nanette in Bloomfield Stadium Sunday to win the French Champions Trophy 4-0.

A capacity crowd that was overwhelmingly in favor of PSG, likely due at least in part to the presence of its superstar, Lionel Messi, did show its disfavor towards one of his teammates, Achraf Hakimi.

Boos erupted whenever he touched the ball, as during last year’s Operation Guardian of the Walls against Hamas terrorism, the Muslim player expressed support for the Palestinians instead of the victims of the indiscriminate rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip that set off the 11-day skirmish.

Other PSG players talked openly of their positive experience in the country, with star Neymar saying, “It was really great here in Israel,” and Sergio Ramos adding that he liked Israel “very much,” since “every time I come…the people have been very nice.”

The Final was played in Israel due to the efforts of billionaire Sylvan Adams, who has brought several global sporting events to Israel to show off a side of the country not seen much in the news.

Another sponsor, the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem, brought 1,000 young Jewish, Muslim and Christian children to the game in an effort to promote tolerance through sport.

Politics played no role in the game’s venue. It has been played abroad since 2009, with the exception of the last two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Israel now joins a list of host nations that include China, Austria, the U.S. and Canada, as well as African states Tunisia, Gabon and Morocco.

As Mathieu Ficot, director general of the Ligue de Football Professional, said before the sporting event, taking the game to Israel “reinforces our desire to promote French football in a region that is key for its development.”