Sport and Politics

'It’s Not My Business Who They Employ and Who They Don’t’

MK Miri Regev talks about Beitar Jerusalem, incitement and Nicolas Anelka

Hi, this is Irad from Haaretz Sports.

“Let’s talk, I’m sorry, I was answering 20,000 calls about my bill [concerning annexation of the Jordan Valley].”

I’m here to talk sports. I understand you began to take an interest in soccer. On Sunday you were at Teddy Stadium with a Beitar scarf.

“I’ve only been to two games in my life. I saw a Maccabi Haifa game with Gustavo Boccoli, because at the time they wanted me to intervene [in the Brazilian-born player’s citizenship request] due to my work at the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee; the second game was Beitar Jerusalem against Maccabi Petah Tikva. They invited me following the affair with Sakhnin. By the way, because of this story I hope to come to Sakhnin, but not to protest or incite, but rather approach sports as something that unites people.”

How did you enjoy your evening at Teddy? I heard you were in the eastern stand.

“Yes I was, and it was amazing hearing the drums and experiencing this intensity.”

Did they sing you a song?

“Mi-ri Re-gev, ta, ta, ta, ta.”

Straightforward lyrics.

“Yes (laughs). Afterwards they all came and said ‘You’re our mascot; you must come to every game now.’ Listen, it was amazing to watch the captain, goalkeeper Harush and number 8.”

I understand Ariel Harush is now your favorite player.

“Sure, I was very pleased with him. There were moments he really amazed me. You can suffer a heart attack during these games, you sit there and say: ‘this simply isn’t for real.’”

Do you think Beitar’s coach is doing the right thing, having Nisso Kapiloto play as a defensive midfielder instead of a center back?

“No, no, no, I can’t answer such questions. I have no idea. I’m not that into soccer. My son plays basketball at Maccabi Rosh Ha’ayin, and naturally I came to watch him play. I like sports like most people and always support the Israeli national teams. But now, due to the Sakhnin affair, I was made aware of Nicolas Anelka’s gesture, and even wrote a Facebook post that he should be suspended. One cannot accept anyone doing such a salute.”

Did you attend the Knesset committee debate about the quenelle [Anelka’s allegedly anti-Semitic gesture]?

“No, my committee met at the same time, but it is an important debate. There are some things I don’t know about soccer, my knowledge is average. But still, raising a Palestinian flag during a soccer game, it’s just like raising a Kahane flag and shouldn’t be done either.”

We’ll get to that, but back to Anelka, what do you think should be done?

“He should be suspended and fined.”

Did you consider demanding he be extradited to Israel and sent to the Holot site in the Negev?

“You must be joking.”

This might help improve the image of the site. Maybe African migrants will come to the site of their own free will, knowing that such a celebrity is there too.

“No, be serious. Listen − such a gesture is very severe. There should be no place for racist, anti-Semitic political gestures in sports. It’s not the place or time for it. It’s never the right time.”

Your connection to soccer has less to do with love of the game, and more of an ideological link with the Beitar fans.

“No, it has nothing to do with Beitar fans. Someone texted me that a Palestinian flag was raised in a game in Jaffa as well. Of course, Beitar has its right-wing history, but that has nothing to with it. By the way, I was happy to hear Sakhnin’s coach say on the radio that he, too, was opposed to raising Palestinian flags. I oppose any hatred or incitement during games, and that includes Kahane banners.”

Incidently, Beitar fans raised a Kahane banner at Doha Stadium in Sakhnin.

“Beitar fans are not excluded − that’s wrong. At Teddy the other night they chanted ‘Ahmed TIbi’s dead,’ and I said, ‘no, I’m against this chant, it shouldn’t be done.’”

You know, in Spain you have the Basque teams who fly a Basque flag despite being Spanish citizens. And there was a Basque underground and Basque terror.

“It’s different.”

Their national identity is Basque.

“It’s different. Bnei Sakhnin’s identity is being citizens of the State of Israel.”

They’re Israeli citizens, but their national identity is Palestinian.

“No. What does it mean to be Palestinian? We’re in a struggle …”

Do you expect them to be Zionists, to support a Zionist symbol like the Star of David?

“I don’t expect them to be Zionists or use the Star of David, but the flag and national anthem ... What can we do? This is a democratic state and they’re a minority in a democratic state. The government funds them, they grow up and are educated here. Can you imagine that in the United States or Europe a minority group won’t sing the national anthem with their hand on their hearts?”

In France the minorities don’t sing the anthem. Do you really expect Sakhnin fans to sing the line “a Jewish soul still yearns”?

“This is a Jewish state! This isn’t a binational state. It’s illegitimate to raise the PLO flag during games and cause incitement! No! In the same manner it’s illegitimate to fly a Kahane banner.”

But the PLO flag is presently the Palestinian flag, which is used even in the Prime Minister’s Office during meetings.

“When Mahmoud Abbas arrives for formal meetings it’s okay, but not at a game, when its object is to incite. Bnei Sakhnin is an Israeli club with both Jews and Arabs, and that’s a good thing. From my point of view it’s a wonderful thing, a peak of their integration into Israeli society.”

You donned a Beitar scarf on Sunday, but Beitar fans chant ‘Death to Arabs,’ and sing songs degrading Mohammed.

“They shouldn’t be chanting ‘Death to Arabs,’ or ‘Death to Jews.’ PLO flags shouldn’t be raised, nor Kahane banners, only flags of Hapoel and Beitar.”

But you didn’t call for the suspension of budgets to Beitar.

“I didn’t hear them chant ‘Death to Arabs.’”

Oh, please.

“I didn’t hear them. I can only speak about things I saw with my own eyes.”

Classic ‘see no evil, hear no evil.’ You can’t be serious.

“I really didn’t hear such chants.”

These chants are really well documented, including clips on YouTube. The fans are proud of these chants.

“Maybe, but I’ll repeat myself: All incitement should be stopped. I’m checking with the attorney general what is legal and what isn’t. I think that despite us getting used to such things, on both sides, it should be stopped.”

Don’t you see any problem with the fact that Beitar Jerusalem does not employ Arabs, thus damaging the job possibilities of Arab players?

“It’s not my business who they employ and who they don’t.”

But that’s a sort of apartheid policy.

“This isn’t an apartheid policy, it’s a shame you’re going in that direction only because you represent a newspaper which, unfortunately, has its own opinions.”

Think about it: Arab players can only play in 13 of the 14 Premier League teams. And that is because one club does not employ individuals of a certain race and religion.

“I won’t discuss who employs whom. In sports, the better players should play. I oppose any incitement from the right or from the left. I’m dealing with the issue because of the national aspect. I was invited by Beitar to attend a game and I came. I will do the same if Sakhnin or Maccabi Tel Aviv invite me. I don’t have that many free evenings − eventually I’ll have to find activists and supporters for the next party primary election.”

Maybe La Familia [Beitar’s extremist fans’ organization] can help.

“La Familia can help. I’m proud of them and love them, and that has nothing to do with incitement by one side or another. I really hope that you’ll be fair when you write the story. Even Haaretz can treat the right fairly.”

I’m writing every word you say, don’t worry. Tell me, aren’t you going out to party on Saint Sylvester’s Eve?

“No (laughs). We’re at home, I celebrate the Jewish holidays.”

Do you know Saint Sylvester did the reverse salute? He was the one who invented Anelka’s gesture.

“Right, you’re off in that direction again. Maybe I can find you a job at the Knesset.”

Listen, it’s a serious topic. Sylverster the Cat was a Nazi who abused fledglings – he targeted Tweety.

“That’s very funny. I wish you a happy new year.”

Miri Regev, now minister of culture and sport, waving the flag at a women's panel.
Amir Avramovich