A major Iranian media outlet is reporting this morning that Argentine soccer superstar Lionel Messi has given one million euros to Israel. In a story dated July 23, the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) proclaims, “One Million Euros of Aid from Messi to the Zionist Regime,” and says that the donation comes “as the regime occupying Qods [Jerusalem]” commits “war crimes” in Gaza.
The story cites “Israeli newspapers,” and says that European newspapers are also carrying the claim. However, the claim actually appears to originate at Le Compétiteur, an Algerian parody site. On July 17, Le Compétiteur ran a story headlined “Lionel Messi Offers One Million Euros to Israel,” declaring that the little Argentine had given an amount equivalent to his World Cup bonus to “the State of Israel,” and notes (like the Iranian story) that this comes amidst attacks on Gaza. The story also says that the claim was ignored “in the Zionist press.”
This story then appears to have been misconstrued by a number of outlets—such as El Fagr in Egypt on July 20 and Réflexion in Algeria on July 21—as a serious report. It has also been spreading on Twitter, complete with doctored photographs of Messi holding a “Stand With Israel” t-shirt. ISNA, or someone else in this game of telephone, appears to have mistranslated Le Compétiteur’s claim that the “Zionist press” was ignoring the story to read that the “Zionist press” had originally reported it. The “Zionist press” then became “Israeli newspapers.” ISNA even took the the time to update Le Compétiteur’s casualty count for the Gaza conflict—250—to 600.
This is not the first time the Iranian press has made this mistake. In 2012, the hardline Fars News parroted a report in the American satire site The Onion that Iran’s then president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was more popular among rural white Americans than Barack Obama. And it’s not the first time it’s happened to Messi, either. In the World Cup, Messi had scored a heartbreaking stoppage-time winner that helped knock Iran out of the contest and denied the Iranian squad a historic draw with the powerful Argentine side. After the game, an account linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham congratulated Messi and “invite[d] him to join the jihadist call.” The Sunni jihadists of ISIS are indeed no fans of Iran—but the account was apparently fake. Messi will have to stick to soccer.
Image: Danilo Borges/copa2014.gov.br Licença Creative Commons Atribuição 3.0 Brasil.