Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Emirati sheikh buys half of 'racist' Jerusalem football club

The media have been purring their satisfaction over the irony that an Emirati sheikh has bought a 50 percent stake in  Beitar Jerusalem, the football team whose Mizrahi supporters are so 'racist' that the team would never recruit an Arab Muslim player. Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz explains  the club's 'racism' by its historical 'underdog' status vis-avis the Ashkenazi Labour establishment. But this bastion of Likud  now represents the political elite. The fans' families' long experience of Arab antisemitism never seems to be considered as a factor.

Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife and son at a Beitar match in February 2020 (photo: Nir Keidar)

The irony in the sale of 49 percent of the ownership of Beitar Jerusalem to Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, an Emirati billionaire and member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, can be easily summarized in one sentence: the only major soccer club in Israel to never have fielded an Arab player now has an Arab owner. 

But the historic and political symbolism of the deal goes way beyond irony and the comeuppance of Beitar’s “Forever Pure” racist supporters. It is the culmination of an 85-year journey for the team that represented the historic underdogs of the Zionist enterprise. 

 In recent years, outside of the sports pages, Beitar and its hard-core La Familia ultra-supporters group have mostly garnered media attention for being a hub of anti-Arab racism and violence. Beitar is known for the songs praising the Hebron mass-murderer Baruch Goldstein and Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir, and the roving gangs of youngsters who, after matches in Teddy Stadium, cross the road to Malkha Mall and hunt for Palestinians. It has become one with its unvarnished hatred, proclaimed proudly with the chant “Here it comes, the most racist team in the country” at the start of every match, and which forced the management to never sign an Arab player. Beitar is the essence of the poison that has entered Israel’s public discourse.

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