Beitar fans condemned for ‘racist’ messages
JERUSALEM - Reuters
Supporters of Beitar Jerusalem soccer club hold a banner reading "Beitar will always remain pure" during a Premier League match in Jerusalem January 26, 2013. REUTERS PhotoAn Israeli football club notorious for the anti-Arab chants of its fans plans to recruit two Muslim players, fueling protests in the stands that a senior cabinet minister condemned as “shocking and racist.”
At a league game on Jan. 26, Beitar Jerusalem supporters held a banner reading “Beitar will always remain pure.” Other signs hoisted by fans also protested against its owner’s intention to have two Muslim Chechen players join.
Beitar is a bastion of Israel’s political right-wing and the only leading football team in the country never to have signed an Arab player because of fan pressure.
A Muslim player, Nigerian defender Ibrahim Nadalla, was on the team briefly in 2005 but left after experiencing consistent hostility from its supporters.
“I was shocked by the racism displayed in the Beitar Jerusalem stands yesterday against having Muslim or Arab players on the team,” Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said yesterday. “We cannot ignore these displays of racism which not long ago were directed - and are still being directed - towards the Jewish people.”
Police arrested three supporters on suspicion of incitement.
The Israel Football Association (IFA) said it would take disciplinary action against the club. In a ruling against the team a year ago, an IFA court said that Beitar Jerusalem “had not made an honest effort to combat fans’ racist chants”.
Beitar Jerusalem is owned by Russian-born billionaire Arkady Gaydamak. He said he would not be deterred from bringing the two Chechens, Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev, from Russian premier league club Terek Grozny to Israel later in the week.
Gaydamak told Israeli Army Radio the “small group of so-called supporters” of Beitar “do not represent the general opinion of the Israeli public, and they should not be allowed to win.”
Arab citizens make up around 20 percent of Israel’s population of 7.8 million and no other Israeli club, many of whom have Arab players, has ever barred them. Arab players have long been included in Israel’s national team.
Beitar Jerusalem is now in fourth place in the Premier League, a position that could earn it a place in European club play next season.
Rifaat Turk, the first Arab to play for Israel’s national team during a career from 1976 to 1986, said Beitar fans had shown “wanton racism.” He called on the IFA to take firm action against the club.