Israeli football club cancels Barcelona match over Jerusalem
The owner of Israel's Beitar soccer club said on Thursday that he called off a friendly match with international powerhouse Barcelona over its refusal to hold the event in Jerusalem.
The club and its supporters have been associated with extreme right politics and violent racism against Palestinians.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem following the 1967 war, annexed it in a move not recognized internationally, and claims that the entire city its capital.
The Palestinians, who have recently been subjected to an Israeli campaign of harassment and persecution in the city, see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
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.
“After I received the contract to sign and discovered the unequivocal demand that the game not take place in the capital city, Jerusalem, and several other demands that I didn’t like, I slept with a heavy heart, thought a lot and decided that above all else I am a proud Jew and Israeli,” Hogeg wrote on Facebook.
Jerusalem's Israeli 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 a player of Palestinian or Arab origin, and its fans have a history of racist chants. Hogeg, who purchased the team in 2018, has said he will combat racism and sideline the club's anti-Arab fans.
Sami Abou Shehadeh, a Balad party lawmaker in the Israeli parliament, had petitioned Barcelona to cancel the game, saying Beitar “represents the most extremist, racist and fascist segments of Israeli society.” Palestinian soccer clubs had also petitioned Barcelona not to play.