Stop Funding 'Racist' Beitar Jerusalem, Former Soccer Star Urges Israel

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Rifaat 'Jimmy' TurkCredit: Nir Keidar

Israeli-Arab soccer star Rifaat "Jimmy" Turk has demanded the nation's authorities crack down on what he calls racist policies of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team.

In a letter addressed to Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, the Sports Betting Council, Israel Football Association President Ofer Eini and Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Tziona Koenig-Yair, among others, Turk insists that Beitar Jerusalem be punished more severely and, where necessary, lose government funding.

Beitar Jerusalem fansCredit: Nir Keidar

In the letter, Turk, who once played for the national soccer team, reflects on Beitar Jerusalem's discriminatory employment policy that has for decades avoided enlisting players of Arab origin into its adult team, writing: "Arab and Muslim players from all over the world are discriminated against by the team just because of their religion and origin."

Arabs make up 20.7 percent of the Israeli population and a similar proportion of soccer players in the country's Premier League and various national teams are Arab. Last year, Beitar Jerusalem was the only team in the Premier League that did not have a single player among its ranks from one of Israel's various minority populations. Turk demands the authorities put the leaders of the soccer club on trial for violating the law for equal opportunity in the workplace.

Attached to the letter are quotes from past and present owners and employees of the soccer club, explaining why it does not recruit players of Arab origin. The main reason, according to Turk, is that the team capitulates to the demands of the racist fan club La Familia. Former coach Yuval Naim has said in the past that "Beitar Jerusalem is not yet ready for an Arab player." Another coach, Eli Cohen, said in 2013, when fans rejected two Chechen players who had joined the team, that "the fans don't want to see a Muslim player in Beitar."

Turk notes in his letter that Beitar's policy violates the Union of European Football Associations' ten-point action plan on racism and, as such, infringes on the regulations of the association and does not meet the conditions for holding a license with the UEFA, where Beitar Jerusalem is scheduled to play in the coming season.

Turk also reflected on Beitar Jerusalem's history of disciplinary issues. The team has been convicted for its fans' racist remarks at least once a year for the past nine years. The team accounts for 30 percent of all convictions in the Premier League for such incidents.

In his letter, the former soccer player also accuses the Israeli authorities of preferring to accept Beitar Jerusalem's explanations and avoid taking legal action against the team. Instead of taking action against the club, Turk writes, the Israeli Football Association makes do with putting the club's fans on trial for their racist behavior.

"The club's inaction leads to an increase in the phenomenon of racism in the Beitar galleries, hurts the feelings of Muslims and/or Arabs in Israel and the world, and harms the principle of coexistence and the social fabric in the State of Israel," he writes.

Turk said that at this stage he would not turn to the international soccer bodies FIFA and UEFA in order to "allow [the authorities] to immediately and efficiently attend to the matter." But, he warned, "If I feel my petition is not comprehensively and exhaustively dealt with, I will be forced to approach the international bodies, too."

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