Outcry at fanatical Islamophobia of football fans

February 15, 2013
Sarah Benton

This posting has these items:
1) The National: Anti-Muslim hate from Israel’s most racist football fans sparks outcry;
2) Wyre Davis, BBC: Beitar Jerusalem FC strives to shed racist reputation;
3) Times of Israel: Arsonists set fire to Beitar Jerusalem’s offices;

Beitar Jerusalem head coach Eli Cohen, center, flanked by Chechnyan Muslim signings Gabriel Kadiev, left, and Zaur Sadayev. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Anti-Muslim hate from Israel’s most racist football fans sparks outcry

By Vita Bekker, The National
February 11, 2013

TEL AVIV– They are viewed as Israel’s most racist football supporters, regularly chanting “Death to the Arabs”, “Death to Mohammed” and “I hate all the Arabs” at Arab or Muslim players.

However, in recent weeks there has been a rare public outcry against the ultranationalist fans of the Beitar Jerusalem football club, over their vocal protests against the signing of two Muslim players from Russia’s Chechnya region last month.

The fans’ chants have drawn condemnation from Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, and from prominent Beitar fans such as Ehud Olmert, a former prime minister, and Reuven Rivlin, a former parliamentary speaker.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli premier whose Likud party has long been linked to Beitar, and who is known as a supporter of the team, on Friday denounced as “shameful” the fans’ protests against the Muslim signings.

The premier’s criticism came hours after a fire at Beitar’s offices, which police said could have been an arson attack by fans, that destroyed or damaged more than four decades-worth of team trophies and mementos, and the day after after police made arrests in an attempt to root out the racism during Beitar’s games.

More than 600 Israeli police were deployed yesterday outside Jerusalem’s Teddy stadium where Beitar – one of Israel’s most successful football clubs and the only one in the first division never to have signed an Arab-Israeli player – play the Israeli Arab team Bnei Sakhnin in a home game that could serve as a test of the new public opposition to Beitar’s far-right fans.

“We put 600 to 700 uniformed and plain clothes policemen in place to avoid any disorder and restrain any racist protest,” Micky Rosenfeld, a security spokesman, told AFP.

Sakhnin supporters arriving on buses for the match were to be given police escort to Jerusalem, Mr Rosenfeld said.
The crackdown has drawn attention to more than just racism in Israel’s most popular sport. It also represents a rare high-level public opposition to racism against Israel’s Arab minority, who have long claimed they face widespread discrimination and hate from the Jewish majority.

“This is the first time we see such condemnation against the fans’ racism,” said Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, a co-director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, a group promoting Jewish-Arab coexistence. “The Israeli society is touched by xenophobia and racism and Beitar is just the extreme end of this.”

The uproar began two weeks ago when Arkady Gaydamak, the Russian-Jewish businessman who owns Beitar, announced the signing of Zaur Sadayev, a 23-year-old forward, and Gabriel Kadiev, a 19-year-old defender, from FC Terek Grozny. In protest, some fans held up a massive anti-Muslim banner that read “Beitar pure forever”, and chanted “death to Arabs” and “may your village burn” at a game last month.

The fans belong to a group that calls itself La Familia and boasts several thousand members. Many are teenagers or in their 20s, and are often seen clad in Beitar’s yellow and black football shirts during games.

The group has support from far-right figures such Michael Ben-Ari, a former MP who has called for African asylum-seekers to “get a bullet in the head”, and who burnt a Palestinian flag after the Palestinians won an Israeli-opposed UN status upgrade in November.

At least three La Familia members contacted by telephone last week declined to be interviewed, saying they feared it may draw the authorities’ attention to them.

Police said last week they would use phone-tapping and surveillance to limit La Familia’s activities, and the group’s website was suspended yesterday for unspecified reasons.

The government pledged on Thursday to transfer 200,000 shekels (Dh200,000) to Beitar’s management to fight the racism.
La Familia has a history of being involved in violence. Following a Beitar game last year, hundreds of fans attacked Arab workers at the food court of a Jerusalem mall while shouting anti-Arab slogans.

Guy Israeli, a La Familia leader, said in a BBC documentary about the group last month that he was “proud” that Beitar had never had an Arab player.

“There will never be peace here,” he said. “We hate Arabs not because they are Arab people, we hate Arabs because they want to kill us. They are my enemy.”

Beitar was founded in 1936 and has won six national championships and seven state cups since the Israel was established in 1948.

A Beitar spokesman denied that the team had an unofficial policy of not recruiting Israeli Arabs and said it had been in talks with two Arab players last year who declined to join because of La Familia. Israeli Arabs make up a fifth of the population, and about 50 Arabs play for first-division sides, up from about 10 in the late 1970s.

Ahmad Tibi, an Arab MP and the frequent target of racist chants by La Familia, said the Chechens “should not play with Beitar and give legitimacy to the most racist team in the world”.

Sports analysts said Beitar needed to sign an Israeli-Arab if it wanted to improve its image.

Zohir Bahalul, a prominent Israeli-Arab sports commentator said: “Today most Arab players are not prepared to play for Beitar because of the racism. But it’ll change if this war against the racists succeeds. And it will because the silent majority has started speaking out.”

foreign.desk@thenational.ae with additonal reports from Reuters

Beitar Jerusalem FC strives to shed racist reputation

By Wyre Davies, BBC News, Jerusalem
February 14, 2013

Beitar Jerusalem’s management insists that it will be a football club that chooses players for their ability on the pitch rather than their religion

Like many clubs across Europe seeking to improve on what has thus far been a mediocre season, Beitar Jerusalem signed a couple of new players just before the end of the January transfer window.

But not everyone was happy to see the new signings at their first training session, when they were introduced to the fans.

Fans screamed abuse through the fencing as the two new boys – Zaur Sadaev and Gabriel Kadiev – went through their paces.

The pair from Chechnya are tall, athletic and the club hopes they will give Beitar the push it requires to reach the end of season play-offs in the Israeli First Division.

But the men are also observant Muslims – and Beitar Jerusalem has a long tradition of not signing Arab or Muslim players.

Huge banner
Perhaps because of where they come from – one can imagine that growing up and playing football in Grozny must have been an “education” in itself – the two footballers dealt well with the abuse, even when crazed fanatics screamed and spat as they tried to climb over the fence surrounding the training pitch.

At the club’s first home game, after it was announced the two players were arriving in Jerusalem, the booing and racist chanting were impossible to ignore. A huge banner was unfurled at kick-off vowing “Beitar pure forever”.

But for Beitar Jerusalem’s management and players it was an embarrassment. At a time when they are actively trying to attract investors and sponsors, the “welcome” given by a minority of fans was completely counter-productive.

Riffat, or “Jimmy”, Turk is a footballing legend in Israel and has a cabinet full of trophies to prove it.

An Israeli Arab from Jaffa who played more than 30 times for Israel in the 70s and 80s, he too suffered racist abuse on and off the pitch. He told me most clubs have changed, and nearly all of the top sides regularly feature Arab players, except for Beitar.

“For most teams it’s a pure footballing decision – whether an Arab player is good enough or not to play for them. But at Beitar, they seem to take pride in their reputation as the most racist club in Israel,” Jimmy told me as we sat in the garden of his Jaffa home discussing what has become a hot topic in Israeli sport and politics.

Subsequent training sessions at Beitar have not been as volatile or as emotionally charged as the first one attended by the two Chechens but they still get personal security guards to accompany them to and from the ground.

In the wake of recent events the club’s manager and owners have taken positive, affirmative action.

Ringleaders from the notorious “La Famila” group of fans have been banned from home matches, a handful of others have been arrested and charged with insulting and racist behaviour.

But the determination of a small, determined group of fans shocked everyone connected with the club last weekend.

Beitar’s modest offices, next to the training ground in the heart of Jerusalem were badly damaged in a fire.

What is thought to have been an act of arson destroyed trophies, footballing memorabilia and caused thousands of dollars worth of damage.

Uphill battle
Beitar Jerusalem is traditionally seen as the club of Israel’s political right wing.

Many politicians, past and present, from the conservative Likud party are lifelong fans.

Ehud Olmert, a former Israeli prime minister, and the incumbent leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, expressed their outrage at the attack and the openly racist behaviour of a minority of fans.

Another prominent fan is the former Speaker of the Israeli Parliament, Avraham Burg.

“Jerusalem in the last couple of weeks became a place in which being a supporter or a fan of good old soccer became an embarrassing reality,” he told the BBC outside a recent home game where he was part of a concerted campaign to show that most Beitar fans want to change the club’s image, albeit belatedly.

For the club it is as much about economics as it is politics.

Several potential buyers or investors have shied away from Beitar because of its reputation.

Even though it is one of the most successful clubs in recent years, on the pitch at least, the club’s General Manager, Itzik Kornfein, admitted they were fighting an uphill battle. He is determined to change the philosophy.

“We are not going to give up because of what happened in [the] past few days with the loud minority,” Mr Kornfein told me at the training facilities, which are far too inadequate and underfunded for a club of Beitar’s size.

“We are going to go through it and we are going to support our new players. We are still going to be a football club that chooses players because they are football club players and not because of their religion.”

At Beitar Jerusalem’s last home game against the mixed Arab-Jewish side, Bnei Sakhnin, security was tight and measures were taken to ensure that offensive and racist banners were not allowed into the “Teddy” Stadium.

Nonetheless there were still mixed views among fans at the game.

One fan who gave her name as Linoy was unrepentant.

“This is Jewish land so we shouldn’t have any Arab players or Muslim players on the teams,” she said. “They have Muslim players on all the other teams and that is good enough.”

But another fan interviewed by the BBC said: “The real fans of this club are not racist and they don’t accept the kind of violence and incitement that’s gotten out of control.”

The majority of supporters who we spoke to echoed those comments, indeed many suggested it was time for the police to move against the offenders.

Beitar Jerusalem clearly has a reputation for racism that no longer fits in with the global, or for that matter the wider Israeli, view of football as an inclusive game for all.

The club’s reputation, while a source of perverse pride for a vocal minority, is one the vast majority of Beitar’s fans want to lose.

Arsonists set fire to Beitar Jerusalem’s offices

Trophies, memorabilia destroyed; soccer club officials blame extremist fans, angry over signing of two Muslim players in January

By Yoel Goldman, Times of Israel
February 08, 2013

The ongoing conflict between the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club and its fan base over the signing of two Muslim players reached a new low early Friday, when unknown perpetrators started a fire at the team’s administrative offices in the capital.

According to firefighters, the blaze was likely started by a Molotov cocktail thrown into the office of club steward, Meir Harush, next to the team’s training grounds. There were no injuries reported, but serious damage was caused to the building.

Beitar Jerusalem responded to the arson, saying that the incident crossed “a red line when it comes to the violence and racism that we’re dealing with.”

Police set up a special investigative team to tackle the crime.

The signing last month of Zaur Sadayev and Gabriel Kadiev from Chechnya — the first Muslims to play for a club with a strong nationalist orientation — came under fierce criticism by some of the team’s fan base, who oppose having Muslims or Arabs play for Beitar.

“Those who committed this despicable act,” read Beitar’s statement, “caused indescribable damage to items representing Beitar’s history, like trophies, plates and memorabilia.”

A spokesman for the Jerusalem fire department said that the fire was limited to Harush’s office, but that the surrounding offices and facilities suffered extensive damage caused by smoke and soot.

Harush, who has spent the past 20 years building a historical stash of club accolades and player uniforms, said, “They burned the symbol of Beitar, the history of the club. People without a heart. It’s infuriating and shocking,” reported Channel 1.

According to Beitar officials, security cameras surrounding the facility will likely help to catch the perpetrators.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the alleged arson, stating, “Such behavior is shameful. We cannot countenance such racism.” He added, “The Jewish people, who suffered from boycotts and ostracism, must be a light unto the nations.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat reacted to news of the blaze saying, “Those who did this are not fans. They are criminals in every respect. This is an act reminiscent of the workings of a crime organization, and the authorities should respond accordingly.”

Beitar faces another test on Sunday, when it hosts the Arab Israeli team Bnei Sakhnin. Kadiev is expected to play in that game.

On Thursday, the Jerusalem District Attorney charged four Beitar Jerusalem fans with racial incitement for their reaction to the players, who have been in Israel for less than two weeks.

News of the indictments came as police said they would work to crack down on racism in the club’s fan base, which has become notorious for displays of hostility against opposing teams’ players during games.

Three supporters, aged 22 to 24, were accused of shouting chants including “Death to Arabs” and “May your village burn” during a recent Beitar match against Bnei Yehuda in the capital.

Another indictment was filed against a 23-year-old Jerusalem resident who was accused of trying to break into the team’s training ground with the intent of sabotaging the introduction of Sadayev and Kadiev.

The Jerusalem district police said Thursday it was planning a large-scale operation to penetrate and crack down on a tightly knit group of 30-50 extremist supporters within the Beitar fan base known as La Familia. Police said they intend to use surveillance and phone tapping in order to gain intelligence on the group and curb its activities.

Also Thursday, the Sports Betting Council said it would transfer NIS 200,000 to Beitar to help it in its efforts to root out racism from its games.

Philip Podolsky contributed to this report.

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