The name “La Familia” was chosen more than a decade ago by a group of thuggish fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team in full knowledge of its provocative meaning: not just a family, but a Sicilian-style crime family. That choice of name was meant to broadcast both belligerence and solidarity, and it reflected a willingness to engage in violent behavior both on and off the soccer field.
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This week, we learned that in addition to their usual unruly behavior dozens of members of the organization are suspected of extremely serious crimes. Some 50 members of the group have been arrested in a major operation involving police forces from around the country. Those arrested include some minors and nine Israeli soldiers, one of them a lieutenant. The most serious of the crimes in question, which six members of the group are suspected of perpetrating, is the attempted murder of a fan of the Hapoel Tel Aviv club in October 2015.
Soccer games have always been venues for heated clashes between fans for various reasons: rival teams from the same city, fights over the championship and other such pretexts from the world of sport. At many sporting events in Israel, the term “viewers” has ceased to properly describe the behavior of people who brawl in the stands, hurl torches and run out onto the field, thereby ruining the enjoyment of the majority of the crowd.
But La Familia has exceeded even this ugly culture. It’s no longer just another example of fans who went beyond the line. And the most important aspect of the criminal case against it is public and political.
The extreme severity of the crimes attributed to La Familia stems from its racism and its political partisanship. Thousands of members of the organization – who definitely don’t constitute a mere “handful,” as the police case was codenamed – have incited hatred against Arabs. This group, whose primary goal was to prevent Beitar Jerusalem from signing an Arab player, has become a right-wing extremist organization that participates in demonstrations alongside groups like Lehava, and whose association with soccer is secondary.
In the eyes of the racists of La Familia, who have also demonstrated against non-Arab Muslims, Beitar Jerusalem’s squad must never include Muslims. And everything it does is done under the slogan, “A pure Beitar forever.” Such a sentiment has no place in public discourse.
But La Familia has secured generous political patronage in the form of a party – Likud, the ruling party. Senior Likud officials, headed by Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, have enthusiastically embraced the organization. Regev, who proudly shows off photographs of herself with La Familia members, did praise the successful police operation. But she continues to claim that “the fans aren’t the problem, they’re the solution.” Regev should dissociate herself immediately from the organization, its dozens of suspects and its thousands of members.
The case of La Familia constitutes another warning light about the nature of Israel’s government, which has bound itself to criminal organizations. Woe to the country whose government rests on thugs whose trade is racism.