[Boycott - Sports]
Life At Racist Israeli Club
Ian Woods, Sky News
6 October 2006
The former Spurs player and manager Ossie Ardiles has a new job - trying to turn Beitar Jerusalem into the best team in Israel.
Beitar fans often chant
'Death To Arabs'
But he is powerless to change a club tradition. They're the only Israeli team which practices racial discrimination by refusing to pick Arab players. Ian Woods reports from Jerusalem.
As the sun goes down on another Jewish Sabbath, the devoted fans of Jerusalem's biggest football club are gathering to worship their heroes in black and yellow.
Teddy Stadium in the south of the city is home to Beitar Jerusalem, a club whose history goes a long way to explaining their fans' reputation as the most racist in the country.
The club was founded in the 1930's in what was then British-ruled Palestine, by members of the Revisionist Political Party, a forerunner of the modern Likud Party.
In the 1940s, most of their players were involved in armed groups fighting British authority and many of them were arrested and sent into exile in Africa. The club has not lost its right wing roots.
Former Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is regularly seen in the VIP box. and in this polarised country, the divisions between Jew and Arab don't end at the turnstiles.
Beitar Jerusalem is the only team in the Israeli league that has never had an Arab player on its staff. Twenty per cent of the Israeli population is Arab, but a vociferous campaign by a section of the Beitar supporters means the club's discrimination policy will not change for the foreseeable future.
The club's owner, Russian billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak, (who's son Alexandre has just taken over the financial reins at Premier League Portsmouth), announced that he would like to overturn the policy and sign an Arab for the team.
However, he was quickly forced to back down. Most of the hardline fans are gathered in the stand opposite the team dugouts, bouncing up and down, and initiating a chorus of "War, Jerusalem" which is then echoed by others around the ground.
It creates an intimidating atmosphere, so much so that the stadium has been nicknamed "Gehinom", the Hebrew word for Hell. "Death to Arabs" is often heard, especially when they play Israel's top Arab team Bnei Sakhnin.
The supporters may be proud of their club and their tradition, but the ban on Arabs is a touchy subject. When one fan overheard us interviewing supporters about it, he butted in.
"Why do you want to stir things up? We're not racist, we're nationalist. All the Arabs are Nationalists. They can be racist and I can't? I don't want Arabs here."
But when another supporter told us that there would never be an Arab player for Beitar, someone more interested in football success than politics offered an alternative view: "We'd have Osama Bin Laden if he helps us win the league!"
n general, supporters who spoke English were either more moderate, or more polite. Oded, a young man who'd lived in England for a couple of years, disagreed with the anti-Arab attitude but he told me that some of the hardcore fans would never accept an Arab player no matter how good he was.
There was also a feeling that if someone was to break the mould, it should be because of their football ability, rather than merely a token gesture.
And whoever becomes the first Arab to play for Beitar certainly better have thick skin as well as a talent for scoring goals.
Into this political minefield has stepped perhaps the most mild mannered football manager in the world. Ossie Ardiles, the little Argentinian who became a cult hero at Spurs, joined Beitar at the start of this season, and winning the league will be easier than losing the club's racist reputation.
Ardiles had his own brief problems with hostile crowds, when he had to take a sabbatical from White Hart Lane during the Falklands War in 1982, so he has no sympathy with extremist views.
And he would happily sign an Arab for his team.
"The Chairman, the players and I have no problem. But what is stopping us do that is the attitude of our fans." he told me.
"And of course it would put a lot of pressure on the player himself. Racism has no part in football, or in society as a whole. You should be judged on your ability, not for the colour of your skin or the language you speak."
Ardiles claimed to have been something of a pioneer on equality when he was manager of Newcastle United 15 years ago. He told me that he signed the club's first black player, Franz Carr, but when I checked, Carr was not actually the first.
Still, the signing came at a time when black and white was merely the colour of Newcastle's shirts, not of the team as a whole.
The Beitar tradition is very reminiscent of how sectarianism in Glasgow meant that Rangers avoided signing Catholic players until Graeme Souness brought Mo Johnson to Ibrox in 1989.
Despite outrage from some supporters, it paved the way for numerous Catholic players to join the club, and now they even have a Catholic manager in Paul Le Guen.
It may be a long time before Beitar Jerusalem progress that far but Arab players have appeared regularly in the Israeli national side, and two, Abbas Suwan and Walid Badir (once of Wimbledon) may well feature against England when Steve McClaren's side play a European Championship Qualifier in Tel Aviv next March.
Supporters in Tel Aviv are more liberal than Jerusalem. On the one occasion that the national side played a game at Beitar's stadium, some of the home supporters jeered the Arabs who were wearing Israel shirts.
The standard of Israeli football might be improving, but the behaviour of the fans still falls short of international expectations.
Ultras Hapoel take a stand against Racism
fare (Football Against Racism in Europe)
Beitar Jerusalem are well known to spread racist hatred against Arab players or supportes. "Death to arabs", "Muhammad is gay" and "Burn the Arab villages" are just some of the chants regularly heard at their games
Last Tuesday night the Ultras Hapoel, a supporters group of Hapoel Tel-Aviv, displayed several banners to show their stand against racism.
Ultras Hapoel unfurled ten banners saying "No to racism" in ten different languages - Arabic, Russian, Amharic, Italian, German, French, Greek, Turkish, English and Spanish.
Additionally they displayed a large flag with the symbol of Hapoel surronded by the symbols of six world-religions : Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and Judaism. Above, a big banner read "No to racism" in Hebrew.
During recent years, Israeli football has been often spoiled by racist chanting at several games. Particulary parts of the supporters of Tel-Aviv´s Tuesdays opponent Beitar Jerusalem are well known to spread racist hatred against Arab players or supportes. "Death to arabs", "Muhammad is gay" and "Burn the Arab villages" are just some of the chants regularly heard at their games.
FARE is delighted to see supporters take action against racism at Israeli football and hopes other groups will follow the example of "Ultras Hapoel".
'We will harm Suwan and his family'
Moshe Gozgal, Ynetnews
Maccabi Tel Aviv Soccer Club fans say they will take extreme measures to prevent Arab-Israeli star Abbas Suwan from joining squad
Several supporters of Maccabi Tel Aviv Soccer Club have threatened to harm Arab-Israeli player Abbas Suwan if he joins the team.
Arab footballer Abbas Suwan and
his family have been threatened
by Israeli football fans
"It all started when we realized the club wants to bring Suwan (to Maccabi)," a club supporter told Ynet. "We don't want Arabs on our team. We will take extreme action, and, if needed, we will harm Suwan and his family. The symbol of our club is the Star of David, and we don’t want Arabs. He should go play for the Palestinian team, not for us."
Arab player Salam Abu-Siam has been on Macabbi's roster for several years, but the supporters have a 'solution' for him as well.
"Salam is on his way out of Maccabi. He represents the Arab sector, and we don't like that," the fan said. "Perhaps because he grew up in the club we'll let him remain, but we certainly won't allow other (Arab) players to join," the fan said.
He added that some of those who oppose the acquisition of Arab players have served prison terms and are not fearful of returning to jail.
"Maccabi is our life. We will not let Suwan arrive," the supporter said. "People have already wanted to hurt him;I stopped them, but this won't continue for long. We don't talk, we act."
Suwan, a member of Israel's national team, recently scored a crucial equalizer in Israel's World Cup qualifying match against Ireland, keeping the national squad's hopes of advancing to the prestigious tournament alive.
Maccabi Tel Aviv rises to the top of the Racism and Incitement Index due to the behavior of fans
The Racism and Incitement Index , New Israel Fund observers' report for week 25
Maccabi Tel Aviv fans chanted “Give the IDF a free hand to defeat and rape the Arabs.”
New Israel Fund volunteer observers reported that this round was characterized by many violent chants against players, coaches, and referees. Observers noted no acts of physical violence, but there were several racist incidents during matches against dark-skinned and Arab players.
Things that deserve condemnation
Several times during the game against Bnei Sakhnin, Maccabi Tel Aviv fans chanted, “Tuama is a terrorist,” and “Give the IDF a free hand to defeat and rape the Arabs.”
Hapoel Petah Tikva supporters booed Izbita Ogbona, a dark-skinned player for Hapoel Tel Aviv, a number of times throughout the match between the two teams.
Fans of Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv chanted violently against Eli Ohana, Beitar Jerusalem's coach, throughout the match between the two teams.
Beitar Jerusalem coach Eli Ohana made a rude hand gesture at Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv fans at the end of the match between the two teams.
Bnei Sakhnin fans insulted Salam Abu Siyam, an Arab player for Maccabi Tel Aviv, throughout the match. They also threw drinking cups at the standard bearer several times during the match.
Maccabi Haifa fans chanted violently against players on their team and against the coach as well throughout their match against Ashdod.
A tally of the results for week 25 put Maccabi Tel Aviv at the top of the Racism and Incitement Index with 16 points, after it had 14 points in the last round. Beitar Jerusalem comes right after Maccabi Tel Aviv with 14 points, down from 16 in the previous round. Other increases registered by other teams: Maccabi Haifa went up from 11 points last round to 13 point in the current round, and Bnei Sakhnin and Bnei Yehuda went up from 7 points to 11 points in the current round. Hapoel Petah Tikva also went up from 7 points last round to 10 points in this round.
The team that demonstrated the greatest level of respect and sportsmanship at the end of round 25 was SC Ashdod, whose fans demonstrated sportsmanlike and respectful behavior.
The National League
It was a calm week with a few of incidences of verbal violence against coaches, players, and referees.
Beitar Jerusalem remained at the top of the Racism and Incitement Index as a result of violations accumulated in the previous round.
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