In March alone, there were four recorded violent incidents linked to Israeli soccer.
Thousands of Hapoel Tel Aviv fans rioted after the team lost the Tel Aviv derby, throwing objects onto the field and blocking the players of both teams from leaving it. A few days later, two Maccabi Petah Tikva fans burst onto the field and tried to assault a referee; then we had the 300 Beitar Jerusalem fans who ran amok at the Malha Mall, yelling "Death to the Arabs" and beating up Arab cleaning workers; and on Saturday two officials of the Maccabi Petah Tikva club attacked Hapoel Haifa player Ali Khatib, who was head-butted by one and kicked in the face by the other.
Khatib lost consciousness and was rushed to the hospital, but it seems that it is Israeli soccer that needs some urgent treatment.
Popular sports, which are meant to provide entertainment for the entire family, have in recent years turned into the gutter of Israeli society, through which flow phenomena that are not legitimate in any other area.
Only in Israeli soccer can a club block Arabs from joining its ranks, and harsh violence is treated solely as a disciplinary infraction, to be handled by the Israel Football Association's internal court. The anarchy and lack of police enforcement have turned Israeli soccer into a source of violence, racism and hatred, and has even started to attract dubious characters, who at times manage the teams.
The IFA is subordinate to international sports institutions, such as UEFA, the Union of European Football Associations, and FIFA, the international association, and vehemently refuses the involvement of the Culture and Sports Ministry. But after several years in which Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat has proven incapable of getting rid of the rot that has penetrated Israeli soccer, it's time for her to get into the thick of things.
She must adopt the model that has been successfully used in Britain, which combines persistent, preventive police action against hooligans and tough sentences against violent fans. The State of Israel cannot allow a situation in which a sport avidly followed by hundreds of thousands of people, among them many youngsters, turns into an untreatable abscess of racism and violence.