The various elements that make up Hapoel Tel Aviv - the players, management and fans - have the right to chose how they commit collective professional suicide, as long as no one else gets hurt in the process.
As long as the collective insanity that has gripped the club is confined to Hapoel Tel Aviv and is directed at its own personnel, it's within its rights, and it remains an internal affair. But what happened at the end of Monday night's derby against Maccabi Tel Aviv proved to those who insist on burying their heads in the sand that there's no difference between the plunderers of Beitar Jerusalem, Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Be'er Sheva and Hapoel Tel Aviv. A hooligan is a hooligan is a hooligan. There's no justification in ascribing special qualities to fans of the Reds.
The pogrom committed by fans in the stands was one of the worst in Israeli soccer in recent decades. It was a turn of fate that club owner Eli Tabib, of all people, came out as the big winner. He had been warning against this same mob for quite some time. Who will remember now that their protest was legitimate?
Studies into the phenomenon of violence in sport demonstrate a clear corollary between players' behavior on the field and that of fans in the stands. Avihai Yadin's loss of his senses, not to say a flash of insanity, justifies a suspension from playing of unprecedented length. If it was up to me, Yadin's season would have ended on Monday night, and it's doubtful whether he deserves to open the next campaign. Attacks on the referee is something you don't see in international soccer anymore, and Yadin's behavior bordered on sedition and fan incitement. And it really doesn't matter whether Menashe Mashiach is the best or most embarrassing referee that Israeli soccer has to offer.
A major test lies ahead for the Israel Football Association's disciplinary board. The adjudicators will view previous events, several of which are still fresh in the memory, for which teams were severely punished for far lesser infractions than those committed by Hapoel Tel Aviv's players and fans on Monday. Everything was filmed and documented. Now there has to be a ruling - graver, more painful, discouraging and balanced than previous such rulings.
There is no room here for mercy or forgiveness. Soccer fans in Israel will have to weigh their future actions in accordance with the IFA's decision. And rightly so.
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