Mere days before the World Cup hype commences, Argentina dealt a blow to Israel’s image by canceling a scheduled friendly match which would have been played in Jerusalem. The Israeli government reportedly had agreed to pay $3 million to the team on the condition that Lionel Messi plays in the match.
The plan backfired spectacularly. Following intense pressure from activists globally, including the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions Movement (BDS), Israel was left playing a solitary card to barely any spectators, let alone participants, in its farce.
One main contention about the football match, was the decision to hold the event in Jerusalem rather than Haifa, as was originally planned. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev have both attempted to deflect responsibility for the decision on each other. A letter published by the Times of Israel depicts Netanyahu’s signature on a letter to Argentine President Mauricio Macri instructing, as early as March 12, 2018, that the match would be played in Jerusalem.
News reports are now stating that COMTEC — the company that was responsible for planning the football match, in concordance with the Israeli Football Association (IFA) — are asking FIFA to ban Argentina from the forthcoming World Cup on grounds of purported “Jewish discrimination”. Israel’s claims are unlikely to gain any traction — the Argentinian football team has clearly stated its reasons for refusing to play in Jerusalem, while Israel has, on this occasion, failed in attempting to salvage its propaganda and image.
Now that the victory has been scored, it is best to leave the fandom, particularly that surrounding Messi, in its own arena, in order to shift focus upon Palestinians. Media portrayal of BDS victories, at times, has the tendency to shift focus from the oppressed onto the celebrities. This case is no exception.
If boycotting Israel is to succeed in a way that influences the international community to act against colonialism, it is imperative that one takes into consideration the entire framework of oppression inflicted upon Palestinians. Activism serves a significant role in the face of political action that seeks to protect the colonial framework. It is important that credit is given where it is due; in this case, the Argentine football team for heeding to the boycott calls. However, the reasons behind the calls for boycott must always be pushed to the helm, as opposed to being listed to serve a temporary purpose.
Besides the colonisation of Palestinian territory, Israel has repeatedly targeted specific sectors of Palestinian society to severely diminish opportunities to thrive. Operation Protective Edge in 2014 was characterised by the bombing and destruction of educational institutions in Gaza. Israeli snipers targeting Palestinian demonstrators in the Great Return March, amongst them football players whose careers were destroyed by severe leg injuries.
The IFA has also given membership status to teams that play in illegal Israeli settlements, thus violating FIFA’s Statute, specifically Article 72.2, which prohibits clubs from hosting matches in another member’s territory. Needless to say, FIFA has not enforced this clause when it comes to Israel and it has repeatedly refused to heed Palestinian complaints on the matter, stating that
“in line with the general principle established in its statues, must remain neutral with regard to political matters.”
Little has been said about FIFA’s purported neutrality being an explicitly political stance protecting Israeli interests.
On the issue of relocating the Israeli football clubs from Israeli settlements, the Head of the Palestine Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, has played out a contradictory agenda. On one hand, the PFA has campaigned since 2015 for the clubs’ relocation. The original intent, however, and which Rajoub backed down from, was to have Israel suspended from FIFA — a measure that would have shed light on the colonisation of historic Palestine, rather than differentiating between colonisation and settlements, as if the former was non-existent.
Argentina’s refusal to play in Jerusalem, therefore, is only the first step in extending the boycott permanently. If this particular boycott is only tied to colonising Jerusalem and the atrocities of the Great Return March, its purpose will be very limited. While it is true that some diplomatic overtures and atrocities generate more outrage then others due to their prominence, it is incumbent upon activists not to differentiate between different forms of human rights violations to the point that daily colonial violence is forgotten.