Thursday, July 23, 2015

Israel's Football Fanaticism

Football has long been a politicalised sport around the world. Scotland had a long history of bigotry in its football with one of its foremost clubs refusing to sign Catholics until threats of punitive measures from the football authorities but probably more likely from the changing make-up of the teams itself with the arrival of more and more foreign players. The bigotry was cutting your nose off to spite your face and would be a costly tradition to continue if trophy success was to be assured.

 In Israel it is no different. Beitar Jerusalem’s La Familia, the racist anti-Arab, anti-Muslim fan-group at a recent game in Belgium against Charleloi waved flags of the outlawed racist Kach party founded by assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane and threw flares and smoke guns on to the pitch as well as a missile that hit a goalkeeper during their club's Europa League qualifier. The owner of the football club later announced he is selling up and quitting the game in Israel out of “shame” at fans’ aggressive behavior. Beitar Jerusalem was founded in 1936 by members of a Zionist youth movement; it is linked to the right-wing Likud party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and its fans consider Israel's Hapoel clubs, which are historically connected to the Labor Party, to be key rivals. It is the only club to have consistently refused to hire a Palestinian in a country in which Palestinians ranks among its top players, and has maintained this racist stance despite repeatedly being penalised by the Israel Football Association (IFA).

In the past, a section of Beitar fans jeered attempts to commemorate the 1995 assassination of Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians. Chants from La Familia have lines such as "death to the Arabs" and "Muhammad is a homosexual", "Give Toto a banana" (aimed towards Nigerian-born Toto Tamuz.) They have walked out of the stadium in protest at the playing of two Chechen muslims  and they have attacked Arab-Israelis. 

"The more deeply one looks into the reasons and motives for Beitar's racist conduct, the more strongly the impression emerges that the problem stems from the forgiving attitude of the authorities around it - from the Israel Football Association to the league administration, all the way to ministerial level. These bodies, using various and sundry pretexts, lend a hand to the phenomenon and allow it to exist - whether by turning a blind eye to it or giving convoluted and evasive explanations," Haaretz said. "The time has come to stop talking about image, 'education' or 'processes,' and start taking practical steps. Alongside harsh penalties for manifestations of racism, Beitar Jerusalem must be given a limited window of time during which it will be required to sign Arab players - even at the cost of a major confrontation with its fans. Instead of condemnation, the time has come to act," the paper said. 

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