The folks at Beitar Jerusalem didn’t like the series of reports Haaretz published last summer under the headline “Until an Arab Plays in Beitar Jerusalem,” which examines, from multiple angles, why the soccer club has never signed an Arab player – and the implications of this fact. They also haven’t liked that this publication’s coverage of the club is always accompanied by the modifier “that has never had an Arab in its ranks” – a kind of permanent footnote that reminds the reader it’s not just another soccer team.
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Three weeks ago, when a screenshot of this very line from the newspaper began making the rounds on social networks, the folks at Beitar decided that they were fed up, and announced that due to their displeasure at the way the team is covered in Haaretz, they were imposing sanctions: They stopped the club’s cooperation with the newspaper and dropped Haaretz reporter Dor Blech from its official press release group on WhatsApp. Presently they are denying Haaretz reporters admittance to Teddy Stadium for home matches.
According to team spokesman Oshri Dudai, Haaretz can now buy tickets to the “regular” stands. And indeed, a few hours before the match against Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Monday, Dudai informed the Haaretz reporter: “Buy a ticket, sit in the stands like everyone who has paid and there will be no problems Don’t keep bothering me today, I am busy.” This publication had to cover the game by watching the television screen.
The calculated exclusion of Haaretz reporters from Teddy Stadium in order to punish the newspaper for its coverage is unacceptable in a democratic society, which is supposed to uphold the freedom of the press and a variety of opinions. A soccer club cannot decide who will and who will not cover it; nor can it determine what will be written about it.
Beitar Jerusalem is a privately owned club but receives funding from the public coffers: the local authority, the Toto national sports betting pool and the Broadcasting Authority. Moreover, Beitar’s home matches are played at a stadium owned by the Jerusalem Municipality. Thus – as the District Court ruled back in 1999 – a soccer club is in a sense an organization of public significance. It must therefore act in an egalitarian way and without discrimination, and allow all media organizations to cover it equally. It cannot be selective and dictate who can enter the stadium’s gates and who cannot.
It appears that Beitar is being borne aloft by the ill winds blowing in Israel in recent months. The silencing of human rights organizations along with the stifling of democratic debate are spreading like wildfire. Apparently Beitar’s professional success this season is also dazzling its decision-makers. Among all the compliments on the impressive level of play, the beautiful victories, the surprising ranking, the success of the professional staff and Eli Tabib’s “brilliance” in managing and selecting the players, it seems that the constant reminder from Haaretz about the racist blot on the team’s record doesn’t sit well with them.
Incidentally, though a Haaretz reporter may not have been at Teddy Stadium for Monday’s match, chants such as “the media is a whore” and calls in favor of releasing the soldier who killed the wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron were vividly evident.
On Tuesday, Haaretz filed official complaints with the league administration and the Israeli Football Association over the denial of Teddy Stadium press box access to its reporters. But just as these bodies have not dealt with the racist hiring policy at the club, it seems that they are incapable of drawing a red line for Beitar Jerusalem in this case, either. If Beitar does not relent on the sanctions, which were ruled in court to be clearly and unambiguously prohibited, Haaretz will apply for a restraining order ahead of the club’s next home game.
This publication stands by its right to cover the club and Israeli soccer in the manner it sees fit. No individual or organization will cause it to stop writing about Beitar Jerusalem. From the perspective of this newspaper, this statement is far more important than any professional coverage or analysis. Until when will Haaretz continue? The answer is clear: Until an Arab plays in Beitar Jerusalem.
In the meantime, Haaretz will continue to remind the public that never in its history has the team had an Arab player.