Soccer / Police to Probe Player for Slur

Police announced yesterday they are investigating whether a Beitar Jerusalem player who chanted anti-Arab slurs after his team won the State Cup last week can be tried for incitement.

The State Prosecutor's Office ordered police to launch a probe into the incident involving Beitar striker Amit Ben Shushan, 24, after it received a complaint from the nonprofit organization the New Israel Fund.

Caught on camera

Last week Channel 2 news aired footage of Ben Shushan shouting racist epithets, including "I hate you Salim Tuama," referring to a famous Israeli-Arab player, and "I hate you Arabs."

Yesterday a contrite Ben Shushan posted a letter on Beitar Jerusalem's official Web site in which said he was inebriated at the time of the incident and that he was sorry if he caused offense.

"I was carried away by the inappropriate chant without noticing what the words were," Ben Shushan wrote. "I do not identify with the words. As a soccer player and as a human being person I do not get involved in such things. I don't hate individuals or people."

He also wrote that he had personally apologized to Tuama, whom he considers to be a friend.

Club surprised by media's response

Beitar Jerusalem responded by expressing its surprise by criticism of Ben Shushan in the media, saying it had apologized for the incident immediately after it occurred.

The club, which is one of the most successful in Israeli soccer, is closely associated with Israel's political right. Since the start of the season the Israel Football Association has penalized the club on a number of occasions because its supporters chanted racist slurs against Arabs at matches.

Haaretz legal analyst Ze'ev Segal said yesterday that indictments were rarely issued for incitement to racism because of the difficulty in proving intent to harm and because of the importance of the right to freedom of speech.

Nevertheless, a number of years ago a Beitar Jerusalem supporter was convicted of incitement for repeatedly shouting "death to Arabs" during one of the club's matches. One of the factors that led to his conviction was testimony by police officers to the effect that the defendant had intentionally ignored orders by officers at the match to stop chanting the slurs.

Kornfein seeks new investor

Meanwhile, club chairman Itzki Kornfein is still trying to find someone to buy the club from Arcadi Gaydamak in the wake of the Russian-born businessman's departure from Israel. Kornfein is expected to meet with senior players in the club over the next week and ask them to accept a radical cut to their salaries.

Last week talks with a Brazlian businessman who expressed an interest in buying the club fell through. Beitar is now on the verge of declaring bankruptcy.

Unless an investor is found soon last year's Premier League champions will not be able to participate in the UEFA Cup tournament next season despite winning the State Cup against Premier League Maccabi Haifa last week.