Portuguese football star Cristiano Ronaldo has sparked controversy on social media after gifting his football shirt to the Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz.
During an official visit to the fifth Med Dialogues forum in Italy, an annual conference hosted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on current challenges Mediterranean countries face, Katz met Ronaldo and members of the Juventus team.
Katz posted a photo on Twitter showing the football star personally gifting him his shirt in the Juventus colours, which sparked widespread backlash across social media, with people criticising Ronaldo for standing by an Israeli who supports stealing the rights of the Palestinian people.
This controversial move surprised some Arab fans who considered Ronaldo one of the supporters of the Palestinian cause after he expressed solidarity with Palestine several times in the past.
In 2012 the Portuguese star gave away his Golden Boot award to the Real Madrid foundation, which later put it up for auction to raise money for building schools in Palestine.
Ronaldo also donated money to help Syrian children and participated in media campaigns to support refugees suffering in camps.
Katz wrote: "In addition to my diplomatic meetings in Italy, I've had the pleasure to meet Juventus and its stars.
"I conveyed warm greetings from Israeli fans to Ronaldo and his team mates. Ronaldo is a great player & deserves to win the Champions League trophy at least once more."
In addition to my diplomatic meetings in Italy, I've had the pleasure to meet @juventusfcen & its' stars.
I conveyed warm greetings from Israeli fans to Ronaldo & his team mates. Ronaldo is a great player & deserves to win the 🏆 at least once more. pic.twitter.com/BzJJedY5bT
— ישראל כ"ץ Israel Katz (@Israel_katz) December 8, 2019
His fans took to Twitter to remind him of the racist Israeli policies enforced on Palestinians including the destruction of their homes, land grabs and being denied their rights to live, work and move freely.
The man is a walking PR machine, does anything to try and appease both sides
— Ahmad ☻ (@0l6l_) December 8, 2019
This just put an end to all the conspiracy theories on his „no jersey swap" with Israeli footballers as well as his „commitment to the Palestinian people." Some Arab Ronaldo fans will have a hard time sleeping tonight. Ronaldo's public image consists of lies and is a huge hoax.
— 🎗 (@SlashinDrip) December 9, 2019
Last month, the Argentinian and Uruguayan national football teams played a "friendly" match in Israel, ignoring Palestinian appeals over Israeli attacks on besieged Gaza.
Boycott Campaign – Palestine (BCP) has accused Israel of trying to "whitewash" the country's reputation by hosting such matches.
The "friendly" match will allow Israel to use an international sporting event and the prestige of championship athletes to whitewash its criminal policies of ethnic cleansing, the siege, repeated military assaults on Gaza, the demolition of Palestinian homes, illegal settlement constructions and apartheid walls.
In a statement the BCP said that the Israeli occupation is trying to cover up its continuous "crimes" and "massacres" through such matches and condemned Argentina and Uruguay for playing an international friendly match in Tel Aviv.
Recently, Israel has heavily involved itself in sports to distract audiences from their horrific human rights records.
Last year, global sportswear manufacturer Puma signed a four-year sponsorship deal with the Israel Football Association (IFA). The IFA includes teams from Israel's illegal settlements which are built on land stolen from Palestinian families in violation of international law.
IFA's complicity in Israel's illegal settlement enterprise has been condemned numerous times by UN advisers, public figures and civil society and human rights groups.