Nothing Like a Death Threat to Concentrate the Mind


On June 5, the Argentinean soccer club, headed by its star Lionel Messi, had planned to play an Israeli team, a friendly, in Jerusalem. The Israelis were, of course, pleased; the game was sold out. It had originally been scheduled to be played in Haifa, but the Israelis decided to move it to Jerusalem. At that point, the “Palestinians” applied what was described in many accounts as “pressure” on the Argentinians, or — as did the New York Times — as “protests,” to cancel the match.

And that is what the Argentinians did — they canceled the match. But it was not because of “protests” or unspecified “pressure.” It was much more than that.

A little background may help.

The star of the Argentine team is Lionel Messi, who by all reports happens to be a philo-semite and admirer of Israel. Lionel Messi traveled to Israel in 2013 with the Spanish Football Club Barcelona as part of the team’s “peace tour”’; in 2011, he participated in a campaign for justice and memory of the victims of the 1994 Jewish center bombing in Buenos Aires. More piquant still, as a child of nine, and suffering from a growth hormone deficiency, Lionel Messi was successfully treated by a Jewish doctor in Barcelona, Dr. Diego Schwartzstein, and grew to be — as he told Dr Schwarzstein he wanted to — “taller” than his hero, the celebrated Argentinean soccer star Diego Maradona. What role this Jewish doctor played in the sympathetic interest Messi has taken in Jewish and Israeli matters is anyone’s guess. As the superstar and head of the Argentinian team, Messi was happy to agree to the friendly to be held in Israel.

Messi has infuriated the Arabs before. Some years ago he was photographed, yarmulke on bowed head, at the Western Wall. This enraged the Arabs, who seem to be perennially in a rage, but when it comes to Messi, they are perhaps even more enraged than is usual. The protests against Messi have reached new heights of absurdity. When he named his second son “Benjamin,” there were complaints from Arabs that he had chosen a “Jewish name” — the same, it was pointed out, as that of Prime Minister Netanyahu! — and calls for him to change his baby’s name. There were even calls in Algeria for a “boycott” of Messi for choosing such a name for his son. Messi did not change his son’s name, and no boycott ensued. And come to think of it, how would Algeria have “boycotted” Messi?

When the Argentine-Israel match was cancelled, many newspapers in the West reported the story of the canceled match in a curious way. First, they tried to make the Israelis seem unforgivably pushy in wanting to hold the match in Jerusalem. The New York Times headlined its story “Argentina-Israel Soccer Match Cancelled Over Jerusalem.” The Israelis, it was made to appear, were being unforgivably aggressive in wanting to hold the match in Jerusalem, as it had originally been scheduled for Haifa. But was that such an outrageous request? Why shouldn’t Israel, as part of observing  its 70th anniversary, not be allowed to hold a soccer match in its capital? No, Israel was of course at fault. Israel, for the New York Times and many others, is always at fault. Imagine Israelis wanting to hold a soccer match in their capital! Unforgivable.

The mainstream media also reported on “pressure” from the “Palestinians.” That’s a most understated way to describe the unambiguous death threats against Lionel Messi and his family. Why didn’t the major papers carry the real story, under the real headline: “Palestinians make threats to kill Lionel Messi, his family, and other players”? That would have conveyed, instead of hiding, the horrific truth.

And Lionel Messi, as well as the rest of us, deserves to have the truth of what constitutes “pressure” from the “Palestinians” made clear. You can blame Lionel Messi if you believe he succumbed to mere “pressure” — angry letters to the editor, refusals to buy jerseys with the Argentinean team’s logo or Messi’s number, all that sort of thing — but you cannot blame him for not wanting to take chances when he, his wife, his children, and his teammates are being threatened with death. What the coverage ought to have focused on was not the change in the venue for the Argentina-Israel friendly game from Haifa to Jerusalem (with the blaming-the-victim slant — that the Israelis were unreasonable in their request), but on the precise nature of the threats made against Messi and his family, rather than, as happens too often in the media, referring merely to “pressure” or, in some cases, to “pressure and threats” (which still leaves unstated the grave nature of those threats).

The “Palestinians” were well-pleased with the result. In the topsy-turvy world of “Palestinian” morality, it was the Israelis who were “using” the Argentinians, and the Argentinians who demonstrated a higher morality in cancelling the game: “The Israelis tried to use Messi and those stars from Argentina, and I would like to thank them and appreciate their decision, which I think was on the right track,” Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub told a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

“At the entrance to the news conference was a placard saying “From Palestine, thank you Messi” with Argentinian and Palestinian flags, under a big photo of Rajoub posing with the Barcelona ace.

“It was a change of tone from Rajoub, who  had called for Palestinians to burn replica Messi shirts and photos if the Argentinian played in Jerusalem.

Israel‘s Football Association accused the Palestinians of crossing a “red line” by inciting anger towards the Argentinian players in order to scupper the match. It said it would complain to soccer world governing body FIFA about Rajoub’s comments, which it described as “physical and brutal threats.”

“Physical and brutal threats” indeed, from Rajoub, but that was hardly the worst of it, which is why Israel must demand a full investigation by FIFA of all threats from the Arabs that led to the cancellation. Those threats, that  came not from Rajoub but from ordinary “Palestinians,” were death threats — threats to kill Messi, his wife and two small children, and other players too. And that should have been the headline everywhere: “With Lionel Messi, his family, and other players under death threat from Palestinians, Argentinean team cancels match.”

That would have left quite a different impression on the world, one which would let everyone know the depth of depravity of the enemy Israelis face, every single day.

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