Kick Racism Out of Beitar Jerusalem Soccer Team

Jerusalem's popular soccer team has yet to employ an Arab player, since established in 1936, despite the fact that a third of Jerusalem's residents are Arabs.

More than any desire about making history, Mohammad Ghadir wants to play soccer. The Maccabi Haifa striker, who is one of the most talented young players on Israel's soccer scene, hasn't played with Haifa for some time. Frustrated with this situation, Ghadir wants to change teams. Beitar Jerusalem is an attractive option. A large squad that has scores of supporters, Beitar wins wide media coverage and also happens to lack talented players at Ghadir's position. For these reasons, Ghadir said this week: "I am well suited to Beitar, and that team would fit me like a glove. I have no qualms about moving to play for them."

Why should he have any qualms? The answer is that Ghadir, a Muslim Israeli, is persona non grata at Teddy Stadium and in Beitar's management offices. The squad's bosses were quoted last week as saying that "our team and our fans are still not ready for an Arab soccer player." Beitar, which was established in 1936, has yet to employ a Christian or Muslim Arab player, despite the fact that a third of Jerusalem's residents, some 280,000 persons, are Arabs. Money furnished by Arabs contributed to the NIS 100,000,000 allocation disbursed for stadium renovations this year at Teddy. Yet this contribution does not entitle the city's Arabs to representation, even of the most minimal sort, on Jerusalem's sole team in the nation's top league.

Jerusalem mayor, Nir Barkat, who cultivates an image as a tolerant, modern public servant, has yet to utter a word on this topic. He has done nothing to alter Beitar's racist, discriminatory policy. Avi Luzon, chairman of the Israel Football Association, also remains inert on this issue; and the association's court has never lifted a finger to challenge Beitar's racism. Meantime, Israel's media continues to cover the team's games, and barely addresses the racism issue. Could an English or French soccer squad get away without putting a black or Jewish player on the field throughout its history? How would its fans respond to that? Would football associations in such countries countenance such blatantly racist policy?

In recent years Arab soccer players have flourished in Israel's top league and on its national team; and they can be found today on all squads in the top league, apart from Beitar. Jerusalem's team persists in its refusal to sign Arab players. A law banning discrimination in the workplace was legislated in 1988, and stipulates that no job seeker can be turned away owing to his or her "race, religion, nationality, home country or worldview." Violation of this law is considered a criminal offense, and can be punished by fines and imprisonment. Have any of Beitar's managers paid a fine or sat behind bars on account of decades of discrimination?

Relying on the counsel of legal experts, Beitar's officials claim that the team "has not broken a law so long as no player has asked to play for the squad, and been turned down on the grounds that he is not Jewish." Of course, a soccer team, unlike other employers, does not interview job seekers. In the normal course of events, the team seeks out players it wants to employ.

Beitar has never tried to sign an Arab soccer player. Nor are there known cases of an Arab player asking to play for Beitar, for clear reasons: the team's decades-long racist policy, and the humiliating treatment that would probably await an Arab player, are strong deterrents. Yet now an extraordinarily courageous Arab player has stood up, and fearlessly indicated that he is not afraid to play for Beitar. The Jerusalem squad did not assent to his request - not because he lacks sufficient talent, but because he is an Arab. This is a mark of Cain for Beitar Jerusalem and its fans, and also for the city of Jerusalem, the state of Israel and its legal system, the Israel Football Association and also for the media, which continues to cover this soccer team. Day by day, we reinforce and popularize this loathsome form of racism.