Israel chides club for racism in bid to fend off suspension

Israel chides club for racism in bid to fend off suspension

James M. Dorsey
Israel chides club for racism in bid to fend off suspension

AFP Photo

Israel’s Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) has demanded that the notorious Beitar Jerusalem, the bad boy of Israeli football, retract recent statements that it would maintain its policy of not hiring Palestinian players because of opposition by the team’s militant fan base.

The demand comes as Israel is fighting an attempt by the Palestine Football Association (PFA) to get the Jewish state suspended from FIFA at next month’s congress of the world football body. The PFA charges that Israel hinders the development of Palestinian soccer by obstructing travel of Palestinian players between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as abroad.

Senior Israeli football officials are in Europe this week for talks with FIFA President Sepp Blatter, and Michel Platini, the head of the European football body UEFA, in a bid to block the PFA effort. They counter the Palestinian assertion by insisting that the Israel Football Association (IFA) has no say in Israeli security policy.

The PFA effort is part of a broader campaign by President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestine Authority to pressure and isolate Israel following the failure of peace talks and last year’s Gaza war by joining multiple U.N. organizations, particularly the International Criminal Court (ICC). FIFA was the first international group to recognize Palestine in 1998.

An Israeli law firm joined the Israeli-Palestinian battle in international organizations with a petition to the ICC to investigate PFA President General Jibril Rajoub on suspicion of war crimes during last year’s Gaza war.

It is hard to assume that the demand by the EEOC is at least not in part related to the battle over Israel’s status in FIFA, given that the commission has not acted in the past against Beitar Jerusalem, the only top flight Israeli club not to have hired Palestinian players even though Palestinians rank among the country’s top performers. Beitar’s nationalist ideology is embedded in its name, a reference to the Jews’ last standing fortress in the second century, the Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans.

Similarly, the Israel Football Association, even though it is the only Middle Eastern football body with an anti-racism program, has repeatedly slapped Beitar Jerusalem on the knuckles but has always stopped short of significantly raising the cost of the club’s persistent racism. Beitar, which has long enjoyed the support of Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and other prominent right-wing personalities, has the worst disciplinary record in Israel’s Premier League.

Debate on ‘La Familia’

Beitar’s rabidly anti-Palestinian, anti-Muslim La Familia support group sparked rare national outrage in 2013 when it unfurled a banner asserting that “Beitar will always remain pure,” in protest against the club’s brief hiring of two Muslim players from Chechnya. It was the group’s use of language associated with German National Socialism that sparked the outrage against its consistent racism. Nonetheless, La Familia, operating in an environment in which racism, racial superiority, bigotry, double standards and little sincere effort to address a key issue undermining Israel’ s projection of itself as a democratic state founded on the ashes of discrimination, prejudice and genocide, is one predominant story that emerges from the country’s soccer pitches.