Beitar Jerusalem to Host Israeli Arab Team Amid Tension Over Racist Fans

Four Beitar fans were indicted for making racist statements at a game, club's offices torched in apparent arson; hundreds of police officers deployed at stadium ahead of game.

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The Beitar Jerusalem soccer club will host the Israeli Arab team Bnei Sakhnin on Sunday evening, in what promises to be a highly tense affair with tight security.

Hundreds of police officers and detectives were stationed at Teddy Stadium as early as Sunday afternoon in preparation for the game.

The game takes place just three days after prosecutors filed indictments against four Beitar Jerusalem fans for racism, including the harassment of the soccer team's two new Muslim players from Chechnya, Gabriel Kadiev and Zaur Sadaev.

All four fans are between 22 and 24 years of age. Three of them were indicted for making racist statements during Beitar's game against Bnei Yehuda last month. A fourth fan, 23, was charged with harassing the two Muslim players during their first practice with the team last week.

Early on Friday, less than a day after the indictments were filed, the management offices of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club were torched at its training ground in Bayit Vegan, causing serious damage. An investigator from the fire department said the fire bore signs of arson.

The incident signaled that the wave of belligerent protests against the signing of Kadiev and Sadaev has yet to subside. Racism has worsened at Teddy Stadium after the two joined the team late last month.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who was expected to attend Sunday's game, told Army Radio in an interview that the city would do whatever is necessary to get rid of the agitators.

"Unfortunately, there's a group of people that pursues racist actions, which must be eradicated," he said. "If necessary, we will deploy a large number of police officers. We will no longer tolerate it."

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat told Army Radio that several recommendations have been made in the past to address racist or violent behavior by fans, including speedy penalties and the establishment of a police intelligence force, but these measures are yet to be implemented.

The police, the Jerusalem public prosecutor, and the club management announced that they would intensify actions against racist fans. A meeting was held Thursday between Yossi Prienti, commander of the Jerusalem district police, Eli Abarbanel, the assistant to the Jerusalem district prosecutor and club managers. The meeting discussed new ways of dealing with racist outbursts by the club's fans.

The spokesman for the Jerusalem Police said that Prienti set forth instructions for increasing intelligence gathering and investigation in collaboration with prosecutors to put a stop to racism inside and outside the stadium.

Beitar Jerusalem fans protesting their team's acquisition of two Muslim players. Credit: Sharon Bukov

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