State Asks Beitar Jerusalem Soccer Club to Explain Its Lack of Arab Players

Soccer team operates in gray area – it doesn’t have to hire Arabs if it doesn’t want to.

Hagai Aharon / Jini

The Beitar Jerusalem soccer club has been summoned to the Economy Ministry’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to explain why it does not hire Arab players, Beitar officials said.

However, representatives of the commission would neither confirm nor deny that a probe had been launched and it had been decided to prosecute the club’s management unless it is found that they do not have a policy against hiring Arab players. But Beitar officials say a meeting has been set for very soon and they are hard at work on counter-arguments.

The commission’s decision is a dramatic precedent; it is the first time Beitar has been asked officially to explain how it is possible that it is the only soccer club in the Premier League that has never had an Arab player on the team.

The team’s usual explanation that “Arab players don’t want to play for us” is not likely to hold water this time because of media reports of Arabs who wanted to play for Beitar (Abbas Suan) or who had agreed to play for Beitar (Ahmed Saba’a, Mohammad Ghadir).

Still, the commission faces a complex challenge: A soccer team is not like most other employers, who usually have to choose from among CVs submitted by several candidates, then invite them for an interview and at the end of the process decide who to hire. A soccer team decides who it wants and approaches the player directly or indirectly through an agent or associate. If both sides reach an agreement, a contract is signed.

Thus Beitar does not have masses of Arab soccer players, or Jewish players for that matter, wanting to join the team whom it has to turn down. The club decides who to sign, and in Beitar’s case, it simply has never decided to sign an Arab player.

Even when it wanted to, as in Suan’s case, the club’s former owner Arcadi Gaydamak decided at the last minute not to hire Suan because of “tough ricochets from the club’s people and the fans,” as Suan was told and Beitar’s officials did not deny.

It will therefore be very easy for Beitar to continue not signing Arab players – it almost never needs to turn them down, it simply doesn’t tell them it wants them.

The Economy Ministry refrained for many years from dealing with this matter, as did the Israel Football Association, the Culture and Sports Ministry, the Sports Betting Council and the Jerusalem municipality. But senior Beitar officials say openly that they are not willing or ready to hire an Arab player. What more is needed to prosecute them for discrimination?

The Commission for Equal Employment Opportunities was established about seven years ago by attorney Tziona Koenig-Yair, who still heads it. The commission has the authority to take to court any workplace, public or private, which it believes discriminates in its hiring, or after hiring. One of the commission’s major successes is the change in the employment policy at Israel Railways, which openly declared that applicants had to have served in the IDF.

In contrast, the commission considered prosecuting a well-known Jerusalem taxi company that has no Arabs among its dozens of drivers. However, for a number of reasons, including the fact that no Arab had come forward to complain of a rejection from the company, the commission decided not to pursue the matter.

Both cases show the gray area in which Beitar operates in this respect. On the one hand, there are no Arab players on the team, but on the other, no Arab has complained officially that he had tried to be hired by Beitar and was rejected because he was an Arab (or for any other reason).