The Palestine Football Association chief Jibril Rajoub on Sunday urged fans to burn their shirts with pictures of Barcelona star Lionel Messi and replicas of his shirt if he plays in an Argentina-Israel game in Jerusalem next weekend, Reuters reported.
Speaking at a news conference in Ramallah, Rajoub said he had written to Argentina’s government asking that Twice world champions Argentina striker not take part in a friendly game against Israel.
“This match has become a political tool,” he said. “The Israeli government is trying to give it political significance by insisting it be held in Jerusalem.”
Lionel Messi will play on Saturday night, June 9, at Jerusalem’s Stadium instead of in Haifa as originally planned, despite the fact that it can hold more fans.
The game is a World Cup warm-up match that has attracted huge interest among the Israeli fans, mainly because of Messi’s planned participation.
Israeli authorities contributed funding for it to be moved to Jerusalem following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital. The US embassy was moved there last month.
“The Israeli government has turned a regular sports match into a political tool. As was widely covered in Argentinian media, the match now is being played in order to celebrate the ’70th anniversary of the State of Israel’,” part of Rajoub’s letter said.
On Sunday, Rajoub declared a campaign against Argentina and particularly Messi, noting he has millions of fans across the Arab and Islamic world, Asia and Africa.
“He’s a big symbol so we are going to target him personally and we call on all to burn his picture and his shirt and to abandon him. We still hope that Messi will not come,” he told reporters after leaving the Argentinian representative office in Ramallah.
A small group of youths wearing Palestinian soccer scarves demonstrated outside the representation office and attempted to set fire to an Argentinian flag.
Rajoub has long tried to get soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, and the International Olympic Committee to impose sanctions against Israel but those bodies have not heeded his calls.
Argentina have made four previous pre-World Cup stopovers in Israel since 1986. The team has been drawn in World Cup Group D and will open its campaign against Iceland in Moscow on June 16.
Most countries do not recognize either Israel’s or the Palestinians’ sovereignty in Jerusalem and have embassies to Israel in the Tel Aviv area. However, Guatemala and Paraguay followed the US lead in moving their embassies last month.
Reuters contributed to this report