Racism in the Stands

Only 24 hours before the world was set to mark International Holocaust Day, Jerusalem's soccer team unfurled the banner 'Beitar is pure forever.'

On Saturday, only 24 hours before the world was set to mark International Holocaust Day, a banner was unfurled in the stands at Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium that declared "Beitar is pure forever," while another banner espoused "70 years of principles." This ugly exhibition was seen at a soccer game between Beitar Jerusalem and Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv, during which many of Beitar's fans also sang hate songs against Arabs.

The reason for this nauseating racist display is that Beitar owner Arcadi Gaydamak is planning to bring two Muslim players from Chechnya to join the team.

As far as some Beitar fans are concerned, a Muslim player on the team would constitute a sullying of the team's "purity" - Jewish, of course - and the negation of "70 years of principles" - principles of racism and discrimination.

During its 70 years of existence Beitar Jerusalem has refused to sign an Arab player. It is the only soccer team in the Premier League that doesn't field an Arab and apparently its fans don't want foreign Muslims, either. One of Israel's largest sports organizations, which is meant to model the spirit of sport and fellowship, instead tolerates public displays of racism and discrimination.

The club's management tries to combat this disgusting phenomenon by, among other things, blasting music on the stadium's PA system to drown out racist chants from the stands. There are also many Beitar fans who oppose such displays and during Saturday's game there were catcalls heard in response to the hate songs. Yesterday there were even firm condemnations issued by people long identified with Beitar Jerusalem, including Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who said, "We, who stand at the helm of the struggle against racism and hatred, can't remain silent when faced with such [racist] cries."

But public criticism and individual punishments are not enough. So long as Beitar Jerusalem refuses to hire Arab players, it is validating the racist positions of some of its fans.

It would behoove the Israel Football Association, the body that is enabling this phenomenon to continue, to change its regulations such that no club will be allowed to consistently and continuously discriminate in its employment of soccer players.