I award the title of champion tut-tutters of the week to those who bitterly criticized the fans of soccer team Beitar Jerusalem for shaming us in Belgium. Those who voiced their disapproval are upholding the chronic dichotomy of being Israeli: Every time one of us sets foot on foreign soil, he or she can either bring either honor or ignominy. It’s either defeating top-notch teams like Chelsea, or losing to some third-rate side. It’s either being awarded a Nobel Prize for Chemistry or being caught on an iPhone threatening a hotel receptionist in Burgas, calling her a “****ing anti-Semitic bitch!” There is nothing in between.
Actually, there is. The fans of Beitar Jerusalem who went to Charleroi to see their side in the Europa League qualifying game on Thursday did not behave like hooligans. Sure, they were obnoxious and rioted, and don’t possess an ounce of charm. But it’s all within reason for soccer fans who follow their team abroad. This even includes the throwing of an object that hit the rival team’s goalkeeper. Yes, it’s bad; it’s ugly. It should come with a heavy fine. But it’s not classical hooliganism – it’s more like high-school kids who can’t control themselves on a trip to Eilat.
As for their personalities, Beitar fans lack the sadistic motor that drives Serb or Turkish fans – who can attack a restaurant in the center of some European city and smash tables over the heads of local fans. Beitar fans really aren’t like that. If they broke a table on anyone’s head, it would be on the head of an Arab working at the Malha Mall in Jerusalem. However, Jerusalem is not in Europe: it’s in Jordan.
What’s more interesting about the conduct of Beitar fans during their visit to Belgium is the message they’re trying to convey to us all – precisely because it took place in Europe, and because they knew we would be following them with our tut-tutting looks of disapproval. “In Israel we’re only riff-raff,” they’re saying. “In Europe we’re folklore, we’re colorful, we’re an anthropological item; we’re discussed on the websites of all the ultras [extreme soccer fans].” They’re right.
A campaign, not a club
Not only are they right. They’ve also internalized better than anyone else the working methods used by that purple-haired political leader for whom most of them voted. Just as Israel’s official foreign policy is one big campaign – that is, propaganda explaining itself rather than the policy it is supposed to justify – so too does Beitar Jerusalem. For anyone who hasn’t been here in recent years, here’s a reminder: Beitar isn’t a soccer club; it’s a campaign.
Netanyahu knows that in order to gain the attention of Israel’s public, he needs to go to the U.S. Congress and address us from there. Beitar fans know this equally well. That’s precisely what went through their minds when, alongside the Israeli flag they displayed at the stadium in Charleroi, they put up the yellow-fisted flag of Meir Kahane’s Kach movement – a terrorist organization not only on Israel’s statute books but also in those of the European Union, whose parliament is only 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of the Charleroi stadium.
Arabs don’t interest these Beitar fans – not those of Palestine, not those of Israel, and certainly not those living in Europe. Actually, even human rights organizations such as B’Tselem or Breaking the Silence don’t interest them. The eyes they were poking fingers into were those of extreme left activists such as MKs Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni. More importantly, their gestures were aimed at the well-known anti-Semitic leftist institution known as the High Court of Justice. In all your faces, in spite of you, precisely in Europe – the “Kach” flag! Now let’s hear those tut-tuts. You’re cutest when you’re making those sounds.
And now for some responses: The prime minister’s spokesman stressed that Arabs are still streaming to the polling stations in their droves, using buses provided by leftist NGOs. The most extremist set of Beitar fans, known as La Familia, stated, “We are surprised that a paper such as Haaretz, which calls itself a paper for thinking people, tries to delegitimize freedom of expression. Beitar Jerusalem fans believe in freedom of expression according to the model of English philosopher John Stuart Mill, rejecting its antithesis, as expressed by philosophers such as Herbert Marcuse, who, like all adherents of the Frankfurt School, was known as a Jew-hater and a fan of Hapoel Jerusalem.”
From the office of the European Union spokesman came this response: “Our investigation shows that at one of the Europa League qualifying matches on Thursday evening, flags of a terrorist organization were displayed. This was at a match between Lokomotiva Zagreb and PAOK Salonika. Needless to say, flying the Greek flag in the European Union is a thuggish and unacceptable provocation, and we’ll do everything we can to prevent the recurrence of such severe incidents in the future.”
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