Maybe it’s not the right time. The new owner turned to the fans, the club produced video clips, and the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team is going through a “process.” The process is important, maybe of supreme importance considering it is Beitar Jerusalem — such a central team, always interesting, an Israeli institution that it is impossible to remain indifferent about.
Moshe Hogeg, the new owner, understood the great potential and he also recognized the problem – and this is the first stage on the road to rehab from racism, in this case.
Hogeg arrived with a vision: he would rehabilitate Beitar. As if the club was a former felon who wanted to make good. The path is promising, in my opinion. I truly believe in it. Beitar fans, who suffered for too long from the abuse of the owners, this time have a new opportunity with a new owner who said on his very first day everything they dreamed of: “Beitar Jerusalem is not mine, it belongs to the fans.”
And then came the game against Bnei Sakhnin. Beitar finally played soccer — and won. The crowd cheered them on enthusiastically and no racism could be seen. No cursing or spitting on players from the Arab town of Sakhnin is enormous progress. Just last year, under the very same circumstances, hundreds of voices chanted the following slogan: “May your village burn down”; they did so in the enabling presence of Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev. Utopia in Teddy Stadium.
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But as in any rehab program, it is impossible to declare a new direction on the first day. After all, such days, free of racism, have occurred in the past too. Beitar remembers them: on one of those days Muslims even wore Beitar jerseys. A few days later they were no longer wearing them. This time, it seemed Beitar Jerusalem could not withstand the temptation. On the wave of turning it into an innovative and lively startup, Beitar was really starving for an exit. In spite of calls by doubters claiming it wouldn’t happen, that the group's true colors will emerge in the game against Sakhnin – nothing happened during the game. It actually happened 20 minutes before the game started.
Before the opening whistle an Arab fan was beaten up. A horrifying beating. His shirt was ripped, fists flew and he found himself bruised, humiliated, in the middle of the street. Those responsible: Beitar fans. “I saw fans with black shirts, I didn’t suspect them, I came to enjoy the soccer,” he told Haaretz. “Suddenly, I felt a hard blow, someone attacked me, and then all the rest. I don’t know how many of them there were, 20 or 30 people.” Not all of the fans hit him, of course. Most came just to cheer them on. The fan, who has asked to remain anonymous, also came to cheer on – Beitar.
“I’m an Arab, but when I was a kid I went to all Beitar games,” he says. “Now I’m with Beitar Nordiya. When they get rid of the racism I’ll be the first to return, and will even sit in the eastern stands.” Such a future is not coming any time soon, because it can’t. To remove such an important part, almost traditional, from the fans of Beitar Jerusalem will take time. The intentions are important, the effort even more, and it will even bear fruit at a very early stage — but the road is long, difficult and mostly not a sure thing. Hogeg needs to think whether he is ready for it.
A number of media outlets must have heard of the story but preferred not to tell it, they didn’t want to ruin the celebrations in Jerusalem. “The dawn of a new day,” said one of the websites. The media rushed to announce a new Beitar, many reported from the stands about the exemplary behavior of the fans, and the team enjoyed this hug a little too much to tell the entire truth.
The victim said he wanted to file a complaint with the police, but the CEO of Beitar spoke to him and said they knew of what happened and have “tried to do everything.” They invited him to the next game against Maccabi Tel Aviv in the VIP seats next to Moshe Hogeg, said the fan. But it is doubtful he will go.
It would be convenient to assume that all the racism and violence in Israeli society belongs to Beitar Jerusalem fans. The uglier the incident, the easier it is to speak about a handful of people, on the margins, undesirable elements. But racism and violence against Arabs does not begin and end with a few dozen bloodthirsty fans. Israeli racism is institutionalized and routine, a daily occurrence. It is not only the fans of Beitar Jerusalem who are not willing to see Arabs.