Beitar Jerusalem’s fans refuse to change

The sign reads "Beitar will always be pure"

The sign reads “Beitar will always be pure” (Reuters)

A version of this piece was published on The Times of Zion on February 6, 2013 under the title “A Self Perpetuating Cycle of Racism“.

Two months ago, I wrote about the rivalry between Beitar Jerusalem and Bnei Sakhnin. In that piece I grappled with the cycle of racism that is perpetuated when Beitar Jerusalem’s management refusal to sign any Arab players placates their most passionately racist fans.

This past Saturday, Beitar’s most racist fans were at it again.

Last week, Beitar Jerusalem signed two new players: Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev.  These two men are Chechen Muslims.  Beitar’s owner, Arkady Gaydamak, a Russian born billionaire, recruited them from the Russian Premier League.  For Beitar’s management, the racism of their fans has been difficult to handle.  On one hand, your fans are your customers, and on the other, restricting the potential talent pool harms your team’s performance and the racist reputation takes a toll.

I would sympathize more with the management, but these efforts to bring in players of ethnic or religious minorities are too few and far between. Furthermore, Beitar’s manager, Eli Cohen, told YNet, “There is a difference and it makes a difference between an Arab Muslim and a European Muslim.” It is a twisted sort of racist logic that leads to an absurd hierarchy of acceptability for races and religions. The idea that distinguishing between these two groups should placate the fans only amplifies the fundamental problems with endemic racism in the Beitar Jerusalem organization.

The last time Beitar Jerusalem signed a Muslim player was in 2005.  Nigerian-born defender Ibrahim Nadallah could not finish an entire season on the Beitar roster.  He found the constant stream of racism, prejudice, and incitement intolerable.

The outburst after signing one Muslim was intolerable, so a similar response was expected following the acquisition of two Muslim players. In a response to last week’s signing, Beitar’s fans showed up to Teddy’s Field on Saturday for their game against Bnei Yehuda ready to protest. The signs that Beitar’s fans brought to the game were not emblazoned with supportive slogans or even relevant ones. They chose to display their displeasure with the team’s management rather than support the players on the pitch.  One particularly large poster read, “Beitar will always be pure”.

Three of Beitar’s fans were arrested for their actions in the stands. Those arrests were the only tangible consequences for the aggressively racist behavior.  The Israel Football Association has made no move to pass judgment on Beitar for its fans’ behavior.

Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Sunday, “I was shocked by the racism displayed in the Beitar Jerusalem stands yesterday against having Muslim or Arab players on the team.”  But should he be shocked?  Is this even shocking?

The government of which Yaalon is a member passed a spate of discriminatory legislation targeted at the Arab minority.  It is a fairly intuitive reaction to see a causal relationship between legislation banning the commemoration of the Nakba or removing 70,000 Bedouin Arabs from their homes in the Naqab and the increasing public racism directed at the oppressed minority. In the past few months alone, Arab citizens have been physically assaulted in the streets of Jerusalem, had their holiday decorations vandalized, have been subject to racial profiling on Tel Aviv’s beaches, and have been refused entry into Haifa nightclubs.

The relationship between the government’s actions and the choices of Jewish Israelis is intertwined and competitive. They fuel each other on to greater achievements in hate while reinforcing each other with, on one side, votes and, on the other, a lack of adequate punishment.  The cycle will not stop until politicians like Moshe Yaalon act on their statements. If you are so shocked by the racism displayed in Teddy’s Field, maybe it’s time to curb the racism in the political arena.

Some of you may respond by citing the recent election results and the ostensible victory of “centrist” Yair Lapid.  Unfortunately, Lapid has a similar perspective on the role of the Palestinian minority in Israeli society as his predecessors.  He was quoted recently stating that he would never join a coalition with the “Zoabiz”. He invoked Haneen Zoabi’s name to associate all the Arab parties with her reputation as “the most hated woman in Israel”.

Ami Kaufman grappled with this comparison in +972 Magazine. He quotes a friend, “Is there really a difference between a politician who doesn’t want Arabs on his team, to fans who don’t want Muslims on theirs?” This particular comparison has grown quite popular in the media coverage of the Beitar game.  It’s a positive sign that these two outrageous acts are provoking the media and political elite, but there are no signs that serious consequences will be brought in either case.  Lapid is still going to have his choice of Finance of Foreign ministry in Netanyahu’s new government, and the Israel Football Association (IFA) continues to prescribe palliative punishments.

Yesterday, Tuesday the 29th, the IFA held a hearing for Beitar Jerusalem.  They fined the organization NIS 50,000 for their fans’ behavior at Saturday’s match.  However, fans were still allowed to attend Tuesday night’s game between Beitar and Maccabi Umm al-Fahem. Banning fans from the stadium has been a punishment deployed by the IFA in the past for similar infractions.

Is there any hope to break the cycle? Beitar Jerusalem is currently ranked fourth in the Israeli Premier League and may qualify for competition in Europe. In a metonymical twist, the international attention brought on to Israel’s most racist football club may help pressure Israeli policy makers to protect the rights of the Palestinian minority. But, it may not even be noticed.

Also, if you’re curious, Beitar lost Saturday’s game. The score was 1-0.  That isn’t justice, but it is nice.

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