Israeli Soccer Club Owner 'Cannot Betray Jerusalem,' Chooses to Cancel Barcelona Match

The owner of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club in Israel canceled an August 4 match with Barcelona after it refused to play in Jerusalem, the Associated Press reported.

The city has long been a point of contention since Israel annexed east Jerusalem and claimed it as its capital in 1967, a move that was not internationally recognized. Meanwhile, the Palestinians want to establish east Jerusalem as their capital in the event that they form their own state.

Moshe Hogeg, owner of Beitar Jerusalem, said that he made the decision to cancel the match "with great sadness," but he didn't want to acquiesce to what he considered 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. "I cannot betray Jerusalem."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Moshe Hogeg
In this Dec. 27, 2020 file photo, Moshe Hogeg, the owner of Israel's Beitar soccer club, speaks in an interview at the team training ground in Jerusalem. Hogeg, said Thursday, July 15, 2021, that he has called off a match with Barcelona over its refusal to hold the match in contested Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File) Ariel Schalit/AP Photo

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

"Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel and the decision to boycott it is not a professional, sporting or educational decision," he said in a statement.

There was no immediate comment from Barcelona.

Beitar Jerusalem 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.

Earlier this month the Palestinian Football Association sent a letter of protest to Barcelona over the planned game in Jerusalem.

Sami Abou Shehadeh, a Balad party lawmaker in the Israeli parliament, had also petitioned Barcelona to cancel the game, saying Beitar "represents the most extremist, racist and fascist segments of Israeli society." Palestinian soccer clubs had also written to Barcelona urging it not to play in Jerusalem.

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.

Beitar Jerusalem Match
The owner of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club in Israel canceled an August 4 match with Barcelona after it refused to play in Jerusalem, the Associated Press reported. In this pic, Beitar's midfielder Ofir Kriaf (L) is marked by Atletico Madrid's Spanish midfielder Koke (C) during the friendly football match between Beitar Jerusalem and Atletico Madrid at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on May 21, 2019. Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images