My friend Yossi Sarid, an impressive educator and accomplished man who cannot be suspected of supporting Beitar Jerusalem − is wrong. So is former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a well-known Beitar supporter. Sarid was wrong to demand that Beitar be “uprooted from our midst” following the display of racism, hatred and ignorance by some of its fans in response to the plan to sign Chechnyan Muslim players. Olmert was wrong to declare in his Yedioth Ahronoth column that he would no longer attend the team’s games. And above all, the State of Israel and Israeli society are wrong to surrender to the racist cells that have developed among Beitar supporters.
The battle for sanity, humanity and human dignity cannot be left solely to Beitar Jerusalem. The club’s management doesn’t stand a chance if left alone in this struggle. The same applies to the Israel Football Association and its chairman, Avi Luzon. No matter what the IFA decides Wednesday, it will be no more than a Band-Aid on a fracture, or an aspirin dispensed for a terminal illness.
Sarid and Olmert’s declarations constitute either surrender or a desire to hide the shame. Neither is willing to roll up his sleeves, gird his loins and wage a real battle on behalf of the rest of us, the majority of Israelis. This is a battle for our home, and whoever doesn’t grasp that, or is reluctant to confront this challenge, actually chooses one of the two possibilities offered by Sarid and Olmert.
A very vocal minority among Beitar fans, a veritable terrorist group, has adopted fascist and neo-Nazi characteristics. One can look at the tiny empty part of the glass and despair, or one can keep one’s eye on the fuller part and be encouraged as the sane move forward in battle. The overwhelming majority of Beitar fans don’t hate Arabs and don’t have anything against Muslims. Recently, and as of last Saturday even more so, this majority has reclaimed its voice. It views the racists with contempt; it hates them, and more importantly, doesn’t fear them any more.
Beitar players are also fed up with this minority and understand it blackens their reputation. Beitar coach Eli Cohen, who drew wild and exaggerated criticism following his admittedly superfluous distinction between Muslims here and Muslims from abroad, stood up to the minority and told them unequivocally that he supports signing Muslim and Arab players. He didn’t run, he didn’t hide, and now he faces threats to his life.
All these positive forces need help and support, but they’re naive to think they’ll get any from our apathetic leaders and institutions. The Israeli government, its courts and its law enforcement agencies are either a bunch of wimps, or totally blind to what’s going on. There’s no other explanation for this situation.
Take, for example, Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino, who never misses an opportunity to be mentioned in the media, but is careful to miss every opportunity to actually do something. On Monday he promised that “the Israel Police will bring lawbreakers to justice and will act with zero tolerance to eradicate the phenomenon of racism.” And so, Mr. Danino, what stopped you from doing that on Saturday? Why didn’t your officers go into the stands and confiscate the offensive banners (“Beitar will be pure forever”) and arrest all the rabble and begin eradicating the phenomenon?
And what about the embarrassingly mild punishments meted out to the racists by our judges? Why has Israeli society conveyed to the extremist fan group known as La Familia that its members can get away with violence and racism?
It’s because of one major mistake: Too many people assume that this is Beitar Jerusalem’s problem or solely the problem of Israeli soccer. But that’s just the thing − it isn’t. The story of Beitar Jerusalem should be a test case for Israeli society and its ability to cope with dangerous and despicable phenomena like racial supremacism and hatred of others. Hiding this abscess or running away from it are not the solutions. In many ways, these two approaches are responsible for the fact that in the stands of Teddy Stadium, too many people feel perfectly comfortable spewing their venom.