On June 5th, the Argentinean Soccer Association cancelled a soccer game between the Israeli and Argentinean national team scheduled for Saturday June 9th. The cancellation came after a series of threats that came not only from anonymous calls but also from none other than Jibril Rajoub, the president of the Palestinian Soccer Association and a member of Fatah, the party ruling the Palestinian Authority. In his threats, Rajoub and his followers urged people to burn shirts of the Argentinean players, particularly of Leonel Messi, the team’s star. Rajoub pointed out that he would begin a campaign against the Argentinean Soccer Association and particularly against Messi. He pointed out that his campaign would extend to all Muslim countries. He said he would urge people to burn Messi and the team’s t-shirt. This represents a serious physical threat that apparently was followed by other extremist groups. This is not merely a boycott. Targeting a team or a particular player by burning symbols is incitement to murder. When Rajoub spoke about extending the campaign to the entire Arab and Muslim world, it generated fear that Messi and the team could be targeted by ISIS or Al Qaeda. So, players got scared and this is also why the Israeli Soccer Association demanded an investigation from the International Soccer Association (FIFA).
By the same token, the episode should not be disconnected from the history of terrorism in Latin America and particularly in Argentina.
Latin America has a history of terrorism. In the 1960’s, in the aftermath of the Cuban revolution, guerrilla movements appeared in almost every country in the region. Most of them disappeared following political repression and the ensuing restoration of constitutional rule. Others like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) prevailed for more than five decades and seem to survive after a highly problematic peace agreement signed with the Colombian government.
Although, as we pointed out, most regional terrorist groups disappeared, their ideological legacy and international connections they developed have had a lasting impact, particularly on the left. One of these issues is the Arab/Israeli conflict.
Cuba has traditionally allied with Israel’s enemies. It developed strong relations with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) providing the Palestinian organization with military training in Cuba and Lebanon. Cuba also sent troops to join Syrian forces in the bloody 1973 war, known as the Yom Kippur War and trained Iraqis in counterinsurgency widely used in the repression against the Kurdish population. The Castro regime also developed relations with Libya and trained its troops in espionage and methods of repression. That relationship with Muammar Gadhafi’s Libya also extended to Daniel Ortega, leader of the Sandinistas and currently president of Nicaragua. Ortega, who is in power by virtue of fraud and now is repressing his people, developed a carnal relation with Gadhafi, a sponsor of international terrorism. Prominent Nicaraguan guerilla leaders were trained by the PLO in Lebanon.
Likewise, the Argentinean guerilla group Montoneros underwent training in Lebanon and developed strong relations with the PLO and Gadhafi. Rodolfo Walsh, a well-known journalist and organic intellectual of the Montoneros, wrote already in the early 1970’s an amateurish and little nuanced pamphlet in which he described Zionism as a colonialist, expansionist European capitalist movement whose main goal is to uproot the Palestinians from their home. Walsh adopted at face value the PLO charter that vilified Zionism and called to dissolve and destroy the Jewish state.
The Montoneros, despite ending their guerilla activities, remained influential in important sectors of the media and acquired political power under the government of Nestor and Cristina Kirchner (2003-2015). Kirchner adopted a pro-Chavez/Maduro and pro-Castro policy as well as an anti-American and anti-Israeli policy. That conception led Kirchner to a dubious agreement with Iran that basically exempted the Islamic Republic from being prosecuted for their terrorist attacks against the Israeli embassy and the Jewish community headquarters by making Iran into a partner in the investigation. Likewise, Cristina Kirchner and her supporters vilified the late (probably murdered) Prosecutor Alberto Nisman who investigated the role of Iran in the terrorist attacks and also investigated the role of Ms. Kirchner in reconciling with Iran.
Iran has increased its influence in Latin America since Hugo Chavez took the reins of power in Venezuela in 1999. Since then Iran has established strong relations with Venezuela and countries ideologically allied with Venezuela such as Bolivia, Nicaragua and others. Iranian groups, particularly Hezbollah, have a presence in 12 countries in the region. Likewise, it has strengthened relations with drug cartels that serve to finance its military activities in the Middle East, particularly in Syria. Iran also established a TV network station in Latin America (Hispan TV) that broadcasts anti-Semitic propaganda across the continent. Such antisemitism has included left-wing anti-Zionism as well as local right-wing, neo-Nazi conspiracy theories that described the flow of young Israeli tourists in the region as a Jewish attempt to conquer and colonize the Southern regions of Argentina and Chile. This propaganda has intensified. Hispan TV’s distorted broadcasts include anti-Semitic conspiracy theories as well as Holocaust denial. Hispan TV has influence in several countries of Latin America and in Spain.
A large sector of the Argentinean media (mostly from the left but also some not from the left like the daily Clarin) blamed the idea of playing in Jerusalem. Such media also accused Israel and Netanyahu of crimes and expansionism and exempted the Palestinians from responsibility for the failures of the peace process. There is little or no understanding at all of the history of the peace process or the generosity displayed by Israel during negotiations or Palestinian rejection to negotiate with Israel. Not to speak about the fact that in the past Israel offered to divide Jerusalem and that offer was rejected by the Palestinians . Furthermore, they also stated that Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem removes the chances of peace as if before the chances for peace existed at all. Interestingly, when terrorist attacks took place against Argentinean Jews a quarter of a century ago, they attributed the attack to then Argentina’s President Carlos Menem pro-American stand or Menem’s visit to Israel. The nature of the Iranian regime, responsible for the attacks, or the nature of radical Islam in general is still far from being understood in this country of the Western Hemisphere.
Argentineans failed to call evil by its name then and also now.
Not one complaint was raised about Rajoub’s serious threats to the Argentinean team. Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri, a self-proclaimed friend of Israel, claimed the decision was made by the soccer association, which is a separate entity from the government. Macri therefore remained silent.
Argentina has been unable to bring to justice those who committed terrorist attacks against the Jewish community and Israeli institutions in Argentina. It has also been incapable of finding the truth about the death of Prosecutor Nisman and the nature of the agreement between Argentina and Iran. The current episode is another capitulation to terrorism endorsed by large sectors of Argentinean media and the fearful and unassertive attitude of its president Macri.
Argentina is an easy target for Middle East terrorists because of the weakness and incompetence of local authorities, law enforcement and intelligence as well as the prevailing legacy of corruption. Likewise, Argentina is vulnerable because there are important sectors in the Argentinean public sphere, politicians and media who directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally continue to find justification to heinous acts based on a distorted ideology and tendentiousness or otherwise find justification to their own cowardice.