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'Forever Pure' Beitar Jerusalem Soccer Club – A Case of Empty Nationalism

Yair Assulin
Yair Assulin
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Extremist La Familia fan of Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, July 30, 2020.
Extremist La Familia fan of Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, July 30, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman
Yair Assulin
Yair Assulin

The most important thing to learn from the silence of Beitar Jerusalem fans regarding the sale of almost half of their “forever pure” team to an Emirati sheikh is just how hollow their so-called patriotic and nationalist talk is in the face of reality. All the crude, uncompromising and extreme rhetoric goes poof the moment financial interests are concerned.

Those among us who warn about surging nationalism ought to take a good look at this deal, at the calm that surrounded it, at the fact that what would have seemed completely impossible just recently could not have gone more smoothly. It was the same with Netanyahu’s cooperation with the radicals from the Joint List and the agreement to sell advanced weaponry to buyers who Israelis had been conditioned to view as enemies for decades.

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I am deliberately avoiding a cost-benefit analysis of these different moves. I just wish to point out how empty all the nationalist talk has become, how for a long time now there has been hardly anything concrete or ideological behind it.

It’s commonly said that money buys everything, but actually, money never buys ideology when it’s actively embraced. It can only buy it when the ideology been gutted of content, when it’s long past its prime and serves mainly as a tool for pursuing totally different interests. It’s important to see where things really stand, so we can act on this understanding and not fear for the warnings about civil war. Let us relax: Despite all the shouting, nationalism no longer stirs anyone to action. It is not like the nationalism of the early 20th century.

Look at all the talk there was of an impending civil war ahead of the U.S. presidential election, with so many people asserting that the streets would go up in flames if Donald Trump was not reelected, and all those on the other side who believed it and were anxious and furious about it and so on. Just recall how that all evaporated so weakly and you understand how the crude talk about nationalism is really a manipulation with nothing much behind it. You will also see the chasm between such promises and their fulfillment.

It’s the same with the talk from Beitar Jerusalem fans over the years. No big crowds came out to demonstrate, as promised, in support of Netanyahu after he was indicted. Even the demonstrations in support of him today are quite meager. As Israeli society supposedly becomes more rightist and more nationalist, it is in reality paying fewer taxes and fewer citizens are enlisting in the army.

In times like ours, of deep change, insisting on taking an honest look at reality and comparing it to the prevailing narrative about that reality is an important survival tool. The gap between the reality and the talk about it, with all the interests that affect it and inflate it, is so large that whoever fails to take note of the signs, whoever fails to continuously reexamine the reality is, consciously or not, forgoing their own liberty.

And this is precisely the distinction – a critical one at this time – between “value” and “cost.”

“Value” – which is genuine and internal – is determined by relevancy, the shaping of reality, the motivation to action. In contrast, “cost” may also be determined by appearance, by the ones doing the loudest shouting and by lying. Hence the distortion in which the perceived cost of nationalism today is high while its actual value, its actual influence on people’s lives, on their faith in it and on their expectations of it is extremely low.

This is also the story of Beitar Jerusalem in 2020. The haphazard march toward a third lockdown is a striking expression of it, too.

Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan's and Beitar Jerusalem F.C. owner Moshe Hovav sign an agreement in Dubai, United Arab Emirates December 7, 2020. Credit: Beitar Jerusalem/ REUTERS

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