Soccer Violence in Israel Doesn’t Come Out of Nowhere

Unruly fans realize that inside a stadium you can curse, threaten and beat people up — and receive a ridiculously lenient punishment, if any.

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Beitar Jerusalem fans making obscene gestures.
Beitar Jerusalem fans making obscene gestures.Credit: Nimrod Glickman

The events of Monday night’s Tel Aviv soccer derby should be of major concern to the heads of Israeli sports. A soccer match’s producing of unbridled violence cannot be treated as a one-time event meriting a specific punishment. This is an excellent chance to thoroughly address the violence that has become an integral part of Israeli sports, and mainly of its flagship game — soccer.

The Hapoel Tel Aviv fan who burst onto the field and tried to attack Maccabi Tel Aviv player Eran Zahavi took advantage of a clear security lapse. MK David Tsur (Hatnuah), chairman of the Committee on Victims of Violence and Racism in Sports, was the one who led the move to remove the police from the stadium area and replace them with security guards. Even if he intended to reduce tensions between the fans and the police, this concept failed Monday and must be reexamined.

But this wasn’t only a security lapse. The game itself seems to have become a magnet for people who see the stands as an ideal place to take out their aggression. These people realize that Israeli soccer is a place outside the law, more or less. They realize that inside a stadium you can curse, threaten and beat people up — and receive a ridiculously lenient punishment, if any.

That’s why a key arena against violence in sports is the court system. The judges apparently don’t yet realize that their leniency has made the stands a no-man’s-land. There’s no reason the soccer stands should be exempt from the strict rules that apply to every other public space.

Meanwhile, the Israel Football Association and the league administration, the two bodies responsible for the game, must use this chance to wipe away the stains that tarnish Israeli soccer.

It is unconscionable for the owner of a soccer club to be convicted of hitting a fan and to continue serving (Eli Tabib). It is unconscionable for another owner to shout at and threaten a referee (Amos Luzon). It is unconscionable for a soccer club to refuse to let an Arab onto the team, while the fans boast about this in their racist songs (Beitar Jerusalem).

The fans’ violence does not take place in a vacuum, it grows on a bed of lawlessness and a lack of culture. Although soccer is not expected to cure all the ills of Israeli society, its heads must do everything possible to put their house in order.

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