Eradicate Israeli racism in the stands

Editorial

Haaretz

Adar2 28, 5765

Betar Jerusalem's fans showed this week that Israeli society - or at least part of it - is severely ill, infected with blatant, contemptible racism. At a soccer game between Betar and Bnei Sakhnin, some Betar fans did not hold back racist curses against Abbas Suan, Bnei Sakhnin's midfielder. They didn't like the fact that an Israeli Arab scored the equalizing goal against Ireland, thus leaving Israel still in the race for the World Cup. They did not like the fact that the Arab team has twice defeated Betar Jerusalem. "You can go crazy over the fact that Arabs beat us," said one of the fans, repeating the same kind of contemptible racist remarks made for generations about Jews in the countries where they were in the minority.

Betar's management tried vainly to dignify the situation when they presented Suan a bouquet of flowers before the start of Monday's game, but the hysterical crowd responsed with an enormous chorus of whistles and boos, and roared, cursed, and booed Suan and all Arabs everywhere throughout the entire game. A report by the New Israel Fund says that Betar Jerusalem fans lead the league on the racism and violence index, and that at one game between Betar and Bnei Sakhnin there was unusually poisonous chanting of slogans like "Baruch Goldstein loves you all" and "Kahane lives."

These expressions of racism continue to be heard, without an appropriate public response or appropriate police response. If the fans of a team in the U.S. or Europe were to shout similar chants against Jewish players, the uproar would be enormous: Israel would demand immediate apologies and action to be taken at the highest levels, and politicians would launch sharp condemnations. But in Israel, the most terrible things get said in public about Arabs and the prime minister is silent. The president is silent. The speaker of the Knesset is silent. And the police do nothing, even though there are suitable laws for dealing with the matter.

Betar Jerusalem's rabble (and it is only some of the fans of the team) gives Israeli football, and through it, the State of Israel, a disgustingly racist character, so it is impossible this time to make do as usual with a disciplinary move against the team. This is dangerous racism that harms the very fabric of life that most of the public is trying to create between Jews and Arabs, and it must be eradicated.

The Football Association must impose heavy fines on the team, to force its management to do something. A heavy, deterrent punishment, for example, would be docking league points from the team, thus threatening Betar's Premier League survival. The team's management must install cameras in the stands, and fill the stands with guards whose job would be to identify the rabble and prevent them from getting into the stadium. The police must investigate the rioters and recommend criminal prosecution.

If all this is done quickly and efficiently, it would be a clear message to the racist rioters that the vast majority of the Israeli public is disgusted by them and their racism.