The Emirati businessman who has bought a stake in the controversial Israeli soccer club Beitar Jerusalem said on Tuesday that “the door is open” to adding Arab players to its roster.
Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, the son of the United Arab Emirates' President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, purchased a 50 percent stake in Beitar Jerusalem.
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The Jerusalem club has gained notoriety for a small core of hardcore right-wing fans, La Familia, known for shouting racist epithets. It is the only major Israeli club never to have had an Arab player.
Asked about his plans for the team, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan told a news conference that “the door is open” to all players, regardless of of their religion or background. He says he wants to set an example that Jews and Muslims can work together.
"I'm not worried - we accept the challenge. We want to set an example for the two nations that Jews and Muslims can work together. If you look at the age of this group (La Familia), they are all young. It seems to me that their members are between 16 and 22 years old. They are brainwashed and part of the dark side. We need to reach out to them and show them the light," Sheikh Al Nahyan said about the far-right group.
Beitar owner Moshe Hogeg echoed the Sheikh's comments about "brainwashed" far-right fans, saying: "I agree with the Sheikh. We need to understand that these are young ignorant people. This kind of racism is the result of ignorance. On the one hand we want to enlighten, and stop this brainwashing Not by talking about it but by showing that Jews and Muslims can work together."
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"On the other hand, we have no patience for violence or extreme racism. We want to help these young people, and the older ones who lead them. If we have to go to court, we will sue them personally or go to the police," club-owner Hogeg added.
Beitar announced on Monday that Al Nahyan had bought a 50% stake in the club and pledged to invest some $90 million in the coming decade, prompting strong opposition from La Familia.
In an announcement posted to its website, Beitar said Sheikh Al Nahyan's purchase also included a commitment to invest over 300 million shekels ($92.18 million) in the club over the next ten years, but Hogeg will remain a controlling shareholder.
Last week, far-right fans distrupted the team's training session and chanted racist refrains over the negotiations.
The prominent Israeli soccer team announced in September it was negotiating a possible investment by a group in the United Arab Emirates in a statement that followed the announcement that Israel and the UAE had agreed to normalize ties.
Al Nahyan gave an interview with the religious Zionist newspaper Makor Rishon last August, and said: "I think it's time to leave the past behind and focus on the prosperity of both sides."