[Marxism] “Beitar Pure Forever”

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Feb 12 07:13:49 MST 2013


Soccer racism raises concern in Israel
By Joel Greenberg, Published: February 11

JERUSALEM — With 10 minutes left to play, Dzhabrail Kadiev, a Muslim 
soccer player from Chechnya, took the field for the first time for 
Beitar Jerusalem, a local team notorious for fan violence and racism. A 
chorus of catcalls went up from the stands, quickly drowned out by a 
welcoming ovation.

Yet every kick of the ball by the newly signed player was met with jeers 
and whistles, punctuating Sunday night’s tense game that ended in a 2-2 
tie with a squad from the Israeli Arab town of Sakhnin.

The signing of two Chechen players by Beitar’s owner, Russian-Israeli 
oligarch Arcadi Gaydamak, has triggered an outburst of violent protest 
from the club’s hard-core followers, long opposed to recruitment of 
Muslim or Arab players to the team.

The eruption has set off a national debate about racism in Israeli 
society, raising concerns that the diehard Beitar fans, with their 
trademark racist taunts and anti-Arab chants, reflect attitudes more 
prevalent than commonly acknowledged.

Since its founding in 1936 by a nationalist youth movement affiliated 
with what is now the Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 
Beitar has had no Arab players, though they have starred on other 
premier league clubs and on Israel’s national squad.

At a game last month, fans opposed to signing the two Muslims raised a 
banner reading “Beitar Pure Forever,” which some critics said evoked the 
banning of Jews from German sports clubs by the Nazis. A group of fans 
later jeered the Muslim newcomers at a team practice, and on Friday, 
arsonists torched the Beitar offices, destroying a roomful of team 

The racist protests have been linked to a fan group called La Familia 
that Beitar’s management has been struggling to control. Last March, a 
crowd of Beitar fans emerging from a game surged through a mall near the 
stadium, chanting “Death to Arabs!” and beating Arab employees.

Despite a chorus of official condemnation of the latest violence — 
backed up by the indictment of six fans for incitement and a heavy 
police presence in the stands Sunday to prevent racist chants — several 
fans at the game insisted that they did not want Muslims or Arabs on 
their team.

“We’re a nationalist club,” said Lior Cohen, a student who wore Beitar’s 
colors of yellow and black. “Arab Muslims have been trying to kill us 
for a hundred years, and we’ve gone through plenty of terror attacks. 
When I cheer my team I don’t want to see someone who represents the 
other side. Next year they’ll bring an Arab.”

“Beitar Jerusalem,” Cohen added, “is not just soccer. We have our 
ideology and we fight for our principles.”

Mai Mitrani, 15, had a similar view. “Beitar has its own special 
character,” she said. “It represents our identity, which is solely Jewish.”

Inside the stadium, the Beitar management put up a large banner that 
said: “Violence and racism? Not on our field.” Jerusalem Mayor Nir 
Barkat, one of several dignitaries on hand, said he had come to support 
team officials “in their fight against racism.”

Netanyahu had a similar message at the weekly meeting of his cabinet, 
hours before the game. “The last thing we want, and which we absolutely 
reject, is violence, racism and boycotts,” he said. “They must be 
uprooted from the public sphere, and, of course, from the world of sports.”

With the beefed-up police forces discouraging the usual anti-Arab chants 
and ejecting violators, fans hurled abuse instead at Gaydamak and Itzik 
Kornfein, Beitar’s general manager. He told Israel Radio last week that 
he had been battling fan racism for years, and that the latest events 
“have broader implications for Israeli society, and for the way we look 
to the outside world.”

Eli Abarbanel, a deputy state prosecutor and a Beitar fan, said in a 
separate radio interview that many cases of racist speech he had 
encountered in his work showed that racism was “unfortunately a broad 
phenomenon in the Israeli public” and that “soccer is the symptom.”

Tamar Hermann, who directs research on public attitudes at the Israel 
Democracy Institute, said that the behavior of the Beitar fans was an 
extreme expression of attitudes typical in societies embroiled in 
long-standing ethnic conflicts.

“Every society engaged in such a protracted conflict tends to develop 
certain negative stereotypes and to demonize the other side,” Hermann 
said. The Beitar fans, she added. “are the radical edge of a wide 
spectrum which moves between acceptance [of Arabs] with suspicion and 
really racist attitudes that have developed in the minds of this 
specific group.”

Watching Sunday’s game, several Beitar fans said they wanted to close 
that chapter in their club’s history and reclaim the grandstands from 
the extremists, whose violence had turned on their own club.

“I don’t care where any player comes from, as long as he’s here to play 
soccer,” said Ovad Shazo, 40, a regular at Beitar games who said he 
opposed the abusive fans. “Those people won’t destroy what we love.”

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