In Israel, a Beautiful Game Is Marred by Ugly Violence

Only after Haaretz published its report did Jerusalem police say they were going to investigate the riot which took place at a Jerusalem mall in which soccer hooligans allegedly harassed Arab workers.

Uzi Dann
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Uzi Dann

Less than two years ago, the Israel Football Association decided to replace police stationed in soccer stadia during games with ushers because police presence made violence more likely. But off the pitch, within the Green Line, the police are responsible for law and order. That is what makes what happened on Monday - when 300 Beitar Jerusalem fans attacked Arabs at the capital's Malha shopping mall - particularly worrisome. The fans were "celebrating" their victory over Bnei Yehuda.

Yair, who has a bakery in the mall said some of the fans "grabbed some of the workers and beat them up, threw people against glass, kicked and punched them." When about 20 of the hooligans shouting racist and anti-Islam slogans set upon a cleaner, and his brother came to his aid, the brother was beaten up, Yair said.

The police took 40 minutes to disperse the rioters, although they deployed special forces and Border Police. But leaving that aside for the moment, none of the rioters were arrested, although security cameras recorded the brawl.

The police told Haaretz Friday the reason no arrests were made was because "no complaint was filed."

Only after Haaretz published its report on Friday did the Jerusalem police say they were going to investigate the incident and decide whether an official probe should be launched. Police said they would be asking the mall for the footage from its security cameras.

Perhaps the incident at the mall and what happened in Toulouse should not be compared, but it is clear what the feeling would have been in Israel if hundreds of soccer fans in France attacked Jews, shouted anti-Semitic slurs and beat them up, and if no one was arrested despite eyewitness accounts and film footage.

And by the way, when fans of Paris Saint-Germain attacked Jews after the team lost to Hapoel Tel Aviv in 2006 (and there it was a matter of a few against a few ), the Paris police intervened immediately and one of the attackers was even shot and killed by police.

In a good many cases, injuries and deaths from soccer hooliganism occur before or after a game and near the stadia. In properly run countries like England and Germany there is surveillance of hooligans, who are quite often extreme right-wingers, and harsh penalties are meted out for violence, including imprisonment. And of course, there is massive police presence during games.

The Jerusalem police did indeed say that from now on they would beef up their forces at Beitar games outside the stadium as well.

Only last week, Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino met with the chairman of the Israel Football Association, Avi Luzon, and called for an end to violence and racism on the soccer pitch.

"Police will tighten their monitoring of people who have been banned from attending games and will prosecute offenders to the full extent of the law," Danino told Luzon on Tuesday, in the presence of the district's entire brass.

"We will take a firm stand against any violent fans and arrest and bring about indictments of anyone we need to," he added.

But the police are not responsible for the atmosphere among Beitar fans - a club that has never had an Arab player in its ranks. The main reason is because of a growing and influential minority of extreme right-wingers among the Beitar fans, especially a group called La Familia among whose members are Kahanist elements.

Beitar chairman Itzik Kornfein said over the weekend he had not heard about what happened after the game.

The club's response: "The incident at the mall has nothing to do with Beitar Jerusalem... Apparently the fistfight started because of an argument between a fan and a worker. This is not about racist violence."

MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz ) called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend "to condemn this attack and direct the public security minister, who is in charge of the police, to take immediate steps to bring the rioters to justice - not only to punish but to deter, to make clear that this kind of thing has no place in Israel."

Beitar fans captured on security camera at the Malha shopping mall.



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