Messi won’t come to Israel, but the argentinean president might

Argentinean soccer great Lionel Messi might not be coming to Israel this weekend, but Argentinean President Mauricio Macri may be making a visit in the near future.

Kulanu MK Michael Oren, who is a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office dealing with diplomacy, will meet Argentina’s Ambassador to Israel Mariano Caucino on Thursday to discuss the fallout of the canceled visit of the Argentinean national team, and look for a date for a visit by Macri.

Ties between Israel and Argentina have significantly improved since Macri was elected in 2015, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited the Argentinean president to visit when he was in Buenos Aires in September, the first-ever visit by a sitting prime minister to a Latin American country.

Oren said that there was discussion about the possibility of Macri making his first visit here as prime minister this month, but there are scheduling problems because, since he is both the head of state and head of government, both Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin need to be in the country at the same time to meet him.

Oren said that he wants to come out of the meeting with the Argentinean envoy with a statement that “the relationship is stronger than ever, and that the cancellation won’t affect the rapidly increasing friendship between us.” He said that dates for a meeting will be discussed.

A senior official in the Foreign Ministry said there is no concern in the ministry that this incident will negatively impact Israeli-Argentinean ties.

“We make a distinction between the relations we have with Argentina – the government and the president – and this issue,” he said.

The official noted that the ministry took a decidedly low profile on the matter, not issuing any statement, because it did not want to turn it into a diplomatic issue. The official pointed out that the canceled exhibition match was a private business endeavor, not an official game or a diplomatic event sponsored by the two countries.

In remarks to reporters before boarding a plane in Paris for London, Netanyahu downplayed the cancellation, saying only “We move on, friends,” when asked about the issue.

The Argentinean press reported that Netanyahu phoned Macri when reports about the cancellation first surfaced on Tuesday evening, and Macri responded that the decision came because of pressure exerted on the team, and that the government had no impact on what was a private decision.

While Jerusalem is not concerned that the issue will harm ties with Buenos Aires, there is concern it will give a strong tailwind to future efforts to boycott Israel.

Netanyahu told reporters later in the day that the decision was both “disappointing and unfortunate,” and that Israel needs to prepare for the possibility that there will now be increasing pressure to cancel other events in Israel.

“This is a nasty precedent,” Oren said. “It creates a situation where every time there is a high-profile event in Israel – like Eurovision – all you have to do to get it canceled is send a couple of pictures of bloody T-shirts to the participants, and people will be afraid to come. The Argentinean team did not back out because they don’t like Israel, but because they were afraid for their lives.”

Oren said that his concern is that these types of threats and intimidation may begin with a soccer match, but could end with a conference on biotechnology or water conservation. If participants to those types of events are faced with threats, Oren said, they will likely ask, “Do I have to risk my life to go to this conference?”


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