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June 20, 2019 5:39 am

Racist Soccer Fans Falsely Portrayed as a Mirror of Israel

avatar by Simon Plosker

Opinion

Soccer Football – Champions League – Feyenoord vs Napoli – De Kuip, Rotterdam, Netherlands – December 6, 2017 Napoli’s Elseid Hysaj in action with Feyenoord’s Sven van Beek. Photo: REUTERS/Michael Kooren.

There’s no denying that the behavior of a section of fans of the Israeli Premier League soccer team Beitar Jerusalem is an embarrassment to the club. Beitar’s most fanatical supporters, known as La Familia, are synonymous with extremism, racism, and violent disorder.

The latest controversy from La Familia is their negative reaction to the name of Ali Mohamed, the club’s latest high-profile signing. Mohamed, despite his name, happens to be a Nigerian Christian. Nonetheless, La Familia’s call to change his name or find a nickname reeks of racism.

Of course, trust The Independent to devote an entire article to any topic that might reflect badly on Israel or its society, particularly when trying to appeal to its target audience of Israel haters.

Referring to Beitar Jerusalem, sports reporter Luke Brown writes, “The club has become a symbol of Israeli football culture and the Zionist movement and is often associated with the right-wing Likud party.”

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So the unacceptable behavior of La Familia and Beitar itself are now seen as representative of Israeli football culture and the Zionist movement at large. Here’s why such a sweeping and editorializing statement is simply wrong.

The preceding paragraph states that Beitar is the only club in the Israeli Premier League never to have signed an Arab. Therefore, Beitar is the exception to the rest of the clubs and cannot possibly symbolize Israeli football culture.

Wikipedia currently includes 70 Arab-Israeli soccer players turning out for teams in the various Israeli leagues. And what about Bnei Sakhnin, the most successful Arab-Israeli club that won the State Cup in 2004?

As for the Israeli national team, the squad that played two European Championship qualifying games only last week against Poland and Latvia included seven Israeli Arabs. In addition, the team captain, Bibras Natkho, is Arab.

This is the real symbol of Israeli football culture: a sport where Israeli Arabs and Jews successfully co-exist on the field of play.

As for Beitar Jerusalem, it would be naive to claim that there are not serious issues that need dealing with. Nonetheless it was reported:

Not a single case of organised racist chanting was observed in 2018 by fans of Beitar Jerusalem, the football club whose fans developed a reputation for their infamous trademark “Death to Arabs” chant.

The record has been hailed as a breakthrough for the campaign to eliminate racism from Israeli football.

For successive seasons Beitar’s fans scored bottom in “Fairness Index” figures compiled by Kick It Out Israel (KIO), an anti-racism campaign run by the New Israel Fund.

But over the years, major progress has been made in combating the Beitar fans’ behaviour. A combination of media exposure and educational efforts, new legislation outlawing racist chants with subsequent arrests and convictions, and penalties imposed on the club by the Israel Football Association have all had their effect.

So is Beitar also a symbol of the Zionist movement? Only if you take the most narrow definition. Many Israeli soccer clubs grew out of political affiliations. For example, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Hapoel Haifa, and Hapoel Beersheba take their names from the Hapoel sport association established in 1926 by the Histadrut Labor Federation, which had a socialist ethos. Beitar Jerusalem and others such as Beitar Tel Aviv Ramla take their name from the Beitar Revisionist Zionist youth movement founded in 1923 in Riga, Latvia by Ze’ev Jabotinsky that is associated with the Israeli right-wing.

So what does a bit of background knowledge demonstrate?

  1. Beitar Jerusalem is actually an exception to the prevailing Israeli football culture; and
  2. The club symbolizes one particular strand of Zionism and not the ideology as a whole.

What’s more, not only is The Independent’s statement not based on reality, but it is clearly meant to create a false impression that the unacceptable behavior of a small yet vocal set of extremist soccer fans is a mirror of Israel and Zionism at large. Nothing could be further from the truth.

UPDATE: In response to ours and complaints from HonestReporting and Algeemeiner readers, The Independent amended the offending paragraph, which no longer associates Zionism with racism and now reads:

The club has historically had close ties to an aggressive strand of the Zionist movement and is often associated with the right wing Likud party.

Simon Plosker is Managing Editor of HonestReporting (www.honestreporting.com), the world’s largest grassroots organization monitoring anti-Israel media bias. This article was originally published by HonestReporting.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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