Israeli club calls off match with Barcelona over Jerusalem

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The owner of Israel’s Beitar soccer club says he has called off a friendly match with Barcelona over its refusal to hold the event in contested Jerusalem.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 war, annexed it in a move not recognized internationally, and considers the entire city its capital. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and the city’s status is one of the thorniest issues in the decades-long conflict.

Beitar owner Moshe Hogeg said he was forced to cancel the match “with great sadness” because he refused to give in to what he said was a “political” demand.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion expressed support for the decision, saying teams that intend to “boycott” Jerusalem should be barred from Israel altogether.

There was no immediate comment from Barcelona.

Beitar is the only major Israeli soccer club to have never signed an Arab player, and its hard-core fans have a history of racist chants. Hogeg, who purchased the team in 2018, has vowed to combat racism and sideline the club’s anti-Arab fans.

Argentina cancelled a World Cup warmup match with Israel in 2018 following pro-Palestinian protests. Some Israeli officials accused Lionel Messi and his teammates of caving to terrorism.

The international soccer federation later imposed a year-long ban on Jibril Rajoub, the head of Palestinian soccer, for allegedly inciting fans against Argentina. Rajoub called the ban biased and “absurd.”

FIFA said Rajoub had “incited hatred and violence” by calling on soccer fans to target the Argentinian Football Association and burn jerseys and pictures of Lionel Messi.

Argentina Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said at the time players felt “totally attacked, violated” after images emerged of the team’s white and sky-blue striped jerseys stained with red paint resembling blood.