Beitar Jerusalem fans are the most dangerous in Israel and deserve a zero-tolerance approach, said top Israeli Arab soccer player Abbas Suan, responding to last week's attack of Arab workers in a Jerusalem mall by supporters of the club.
Suan, a former member of Israel's national soccer team, has also been the target of racial abuse by Beitar fans. In 2008, he narrowly escaped physical assault after his team at the time, Hapoel Kiryat Shmona, beat Beitar 1-0. Rescued by police deployed at the stadium, the fans smashed his car windows.
"I'm appalled at the behavior of these fans," he said after his own close call. "Beitar has many decent supporters; it's a shame that some give the team a bad name."
But after last week's attack, Suan's reaction was much less reserved. "It's the most dangerous team in the Israeli league today," he told Haaretz yesterday. "They are very dangerous, they should be stopped. It is unacceptable for people to attack someone because of his religion or skin color. The only solution," Suan added, "is to reinforce police deployment, inside and outside the stadium. They should be hit hard, and severely punished.
"According to the Israel Football Association guidelines, a fan hurling racial abuse could face up to two years imprisonment," he said. "How come I've never seen it happen?"
One proposed remedy for the racism of Beitar fans is to draft an Arab player onto the team. In 2009 Suan was about to accept the offer of then Beitar owner Arcadi Gaydamak to become the first Arab player to join the team. "If a good person like Gaydamak comes and wants to change things, I said why not?" Gaydamak's bid, which drew fire from Beitar supporters, was eventually dropped.
At first Suan was apprehensive about conducting this interview, which took place in a coffee shop near Beitar's home ground, Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium. But soon he was encouraged by a Beitar fan who approached him to say, "I was sorry that you didn't join Beitar eventually. It's a loss."
"This is an excellent example of what Beitar fans are like," said Suan. "As individuals they are okay. The problems always start when they come together."
Civil society NGOs are expecting hundreds to participate in a tolerance march to be held outside the Malha mall tonight.
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