Israeli Lawmakers Propose Stiffer Penalties for Rioting Soccer Fans

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Tel Aviv derby disrupted by violence.Credit: Sharon Bokov

The day after one of the darkest evenings in Israeli soccer, when the Premier League game between crosstown rivals Hapoel and Maccabi Tel Aviv was abandoned in the first half after fans burst onto the Bloomfield pitch and attacked players, the violence continued on Tuesday. Rival fans clashed in a free-for-all outside the Tel Aviv courthouse as some of the arrested fans were brought before a judge to have their reprimand extended.

In reaction, the Knesset is expected to move ahead legislation proposed recently by MK Gila Gamliel (Likud) to increase the penalty against sports fans involved in violence to as much as 10 years in prison, following the chaos at Monday’s Tel Aviv soccer derby that led to the referee calling off the game.

“Sports in general, and soccer stadiums in particular, have in recent years become a real battlefield,” Gamliel said Tuesday. “It is clear to all that such incidents keep families and children away from the soccer pitch and bring the culture of sports in Israel to a new low. Only harsher punishments against offenders will prevent such incidents in the future,” .

Meanwhile, another bill, framed by MKs Amram Mitzna (Hatnuah) and Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid) calls for a doubling of the punishment against those involved in violence on the pitch or outside a stadium.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein opened Tuesday’s session by urging legislators to move ahead bills calling for stricter penalties for such violence, especially now that the public is ready for it, he said. “I propose that we all look at ourselves in the mirror and think ‘how do we look as people who cannot even hold a sporting event between opposing teams in a proper spirit? If that’s the way it is on the sports pitch, what does this say about the real pitch? What does this say about our ability for discourse and debate, on issues that are truly important?”

Edelstein called on investigators of the incident “not to make do with a penalty of a few shekels or playing home games in other venes, but once and for all, punish painfully and strictly anyone who is found guilty.”

Earlier Tuesday, Knesset members discussed injuries at mass sporting events in a joint meeting of the Knesset Education Committee, Culture and Sports Committee and Interior Committee. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said the issue needed to be dealt with in depth, adding that in all areas under her jurisdiction, including enforcement and penalties, she would “deal immediately to convey the message that this is a serious criminal matter.”

Livni said she would sponsor in-service training sessions for referees and would support Razbozov and Mitzna’s bill on the matter.

Police Brig. Gen. Amitai Levi, head of security in the Israel Police, said the fan who burst onto the pitch and started the disturbance Monday night at the game between Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Tel Aviv had been barred from attending seven soccer games and had a long series of indictments against him. “They bring him to court and in some cases he wins. What else do you expect the police to do?”

The chairman of the Premier League’s administration, Yoram Bauman, called for a minimum mandatory six-month prison term for individuals who, for example, run onto the pitch during a game. “There should be judges who specialize in sports cases and expedited rulings; a police officer should be allowed to impose an administrative fine, as is the case for smoking in a stadium, and create a system that allows the administration to bring a civil suit with compensation without need to prove damage, as is the case in the Spam Law. Just let this violence end,” he said.

Addressing the police representative at the meeting, MK Yariv Levin (Likud), who is a Hapoel Tel Aviv fan said: “You have to check all your work procedures thoroughly. You don’t have to bring the police onto the pitches but you do have to change your battle doctrine.”

Levin said that Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Eran Zahavi, who was attacked by a fan and responded in self-defense, was guilty of “ongoing provocations and conveys to spectators that the pitch is a battlefield – yet no one does anything and the man continues to play on the team. He should be severely punished. The time has come to let the spectators know they are respected,” Levin said.

The police spokesman’s office said Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino had addressed Monday night’s incident at a meeting with his senior officers on Tuesday. “This is a very serious incident and we will respond uncompromisingly and with a heavy hand against anyone involved in the incident to the full extent of the law.”

Danino ordered a thorough investigation of the incident, to be led by the Tel Aviv district police chief, Brig. Gen. Yoram Ohion.

Danino said efforts among various ministries had to be integrated to root out violence in sports, which have a unique character as cultural and leisure-time events. In this spirit, Danino said, the bill on violence in sports had been framed that “places the powers of management of the games on the pitch and in the bleachers in the hands of civilians who have been especially trained by the police for this purpose. The police are in the outer circle, and deal with various tasks, prepared to intervene in the inner circle immediately if needed.”

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