Whose Team Is Beitar Jerusalem Anyway?

Some club directors would do anything to get rid of club owner Arcadi Gaydamak and chairman Itzik Kornfein - even if it means handing it over to controversial former Hapoel Tel Aviv owner Eli Tabib.

Moshe Boker
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Moshe Boker

After a long period of silence, members of Beitar Jerusalem’s fan club began to speak out this month. Having remained silent since the arrival of Chechen Muslim players Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev in January, they have now declared war on team owner Arcadi Gaydamak and chairman Itzik Kornfein, and are now supporting controversial former Hapoel Tel Aviv owner Eli Tabib to replace Gaydamak.

Ever since members of the fan club became club directors, giving them a say in the club’s day-to-day operations, a group headed by Shmulik Levy has been trying to oust Kornfein. Despite attempts to camouflage the disagreements between them, it has been obvious for a long time that there’s no love lost between the two parties. Kornfein was forced to accept the existence of the fan club and its representation on the board to keep his position, even as the directors schemed behind his back.

It is obvious to all that this situation cannot endure forever. Beyond the directors’ conflicting but legitimate interests, they proved unequal to the rage over the signing of the two Muslims. It began with a period of procrastination over how to react – should they rail against the bigoted supporters, as expected of them, or ignore them?

Apart from the club’s official condemnation of anti-Muslim bigotry, none of the directors cooperated with Gaydmak and Kornfein. Shmulik Levy and his cohort went underground. Their struggle to have Kornfein removed is legitimate – it’s their right. But at the moment of truth, when a few hundred Beitar fans did their best to ruin the club, professionally and publicly, their voices were not heard.

Maybe they thought the protest would do the work for them and end with Kornfein and Gaydamak being removed from the club.
In any case, the behavior of club directors who supposedly represent the fans leaves us with one clear conclusion: Not one of them is fit to be part of Beitar Jerusalem.

Ever since I revealed Kornfein’s inflated wage terms, three years ago, thus kick-starting the protests against him, we have not exchanged a word. He decided to boycott me. That’s his right. His decision to boycott me gives me no special right to take a personal stance against him. Kornfein was, and is, treated objectively – criticized when necessary, and praised when deserved.
Beyond my serious criticism of his terms of employment, in terms of day-to-day operations Kornfein is one of the Premier League’s best club officials. He is a real survivor. To his credit it must be said that the criticism and protest forced him to take a substantial pay cut.

The main issue, from the perspective of the fans’ representatives, is that Kornfein has held onto the management that costs the club millions of shekels every year. They have the right to demand that his cronies be fired. At a time of financial uncertainty it is only right to trim high overheads. But Kornfein will not even consider dismissing stalwarts such as club accountant Haim Navon, scout Eitan Mizrahi and PR man Yossi Gabai. The fans, with some justification, say that in the absence of a serious commercial sponsor the club cannot afford to keep them.

But – and this is a big but – the fans' representatives on the board should have demonstrated maturity, cooperating with Kornfein to fight bigotry. They did not speak out publicly against the anti-Muslim fans, distribute fliers with strong harsh messages against discrimination at games or take any preventive measures to bring levelheaded fans back to the stadiums.

While the fans' representatives are dissatisfied with Gaydamak, they cannot ignore his having poured more than NIS 400 million into the club, resulting in some of its most successful seasons every. And it's common knowledge that had Gaydamak not bought Beitar Jerusalem it would have been disbanded by now.

The fan club's members should have known that while fighting to oust Gaydamak and Kornfein they should have cooperated with them against the bigots in their midst. Gaydamak and Kornfein were brave enough to stand up to hundreds of anti-Muslim fans, unlike the directors. As fans’ supposed political patron, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, once said (in a different context): “They are a-fr-ai-d.” Simply afraid.

At least Kornfein should be praised for standing up to the bigoted, barbaric fans. Now the fans want Kornfein and Gaydamak to leave, but not before the latter pumps another $2 million into the club. In this case Gaydamak is right: If he puts money into the team he should retain ownership. But the fan club's logic is upside-down: If they did nothing during the recent bigotry crisis, how can they demand that he put his money down and leaves?
If they think Eli Tabib will save Beitar, they should keep reading. Stop and think: Did Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and the fan club do their homework on Tabib’s record managing Hapoel Kfar Sava and Hapoel Tel Aviv? Barkat, it should be said, has done much to keep the club afloat through choppy economic waters, but he wants to put the team’s troubles behind him long before the October municipal election and would support, albeit unenthusiastically, Tabib's taking over the team.

Do any of the fan club’s representatives on the board know anything about Tabib’s agenda, his real intentions for Beitar? Anyone who thinks Tabib will reach deep into his pockets to restore the team to the powerhouse it once was is in for a surprise. Under Tabib, Hapoel Kfar Sava was charged with signing people to double contracts, and when he split for Hapoel Tel Aviv he took Kfar Sava’s best players with him.

Those who know Tabib know him to be a slick, rich businessman who likes making money much more than he likes to spend it. He’s certainly no philanthropist like Gaydamak. Tabib, according to those who have discussed the issue with him, believes Beitar Jerusalem can be managed so as to break even, or even to turn a profit. One good season at Hapoel Tel Aviv when it reached the Champions League and earned tens of millions of shekels made him a bit of a dreamer. Could Beitar reach the Champions League? Not in the foreseeable future.

Those clamoring for Tabib to take over Beitar Jerusalem should bear this in mind: He joined Hapoel Tel Aviv as a partner but brought no money of his own into the club, apart from his dowry from Kfar Sava. He bought his shares from Moni Harel for NIS 6 million, only to eventually sell Hapoel Tel Aviv to Haim Ramon’s consortium for NIS 18 million. Nice work.

Beitar Jerusalem has a deficit of at least NIS 12 million. Its owner must put in NIS 10 million to NIS 12 million every season for the next few years, including loan servicing, just to start the season. Does anyone think Tabib is prepared to do this?

Beitar Jerusalem fans protesting their team's acquisition of two Muslim players. Credit: Sharon Bukov
Kornfein, left, and Gaydamak in Chechnya.Credit: Official website of Beitar Jerusalem
Eli Tabib

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