Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch admitted police had failed in their response to last Monday’s violent attack on Arab workers and passersby in a Jerusalem mall, and told Israel Radio on Thursday morning that anyone who took part in the incident would be arrested.
Fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team ran amok in the Malha mall after a game in nearby Teddy Stadium last Monday, physically assaulting Arab workers and customers, damaging mall property and chanting racist slogans.
By Thursday afternoon, 16 suspects had been detained in connection with the attack.
Aharonovitch also told Israel Radio that the police should have demonstrated more decisiveness following the incident, and confirmed that the Jerusalem police chief was carrying out an in-depth investigation of the racist assaults and the police response.
On Tuesday night, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat hosted in his office the Arab workers who were attacked and called for justice on their behalf: “I condemn this violence and bullying. This violence is not characteristic of the majority of Beitar fans, and they should be ashamed of their behavior,” said Barkat.
On Wednesday evening, members of civil rights organizations and the Masorti (Conservative) movement protested outside the shopping mall to condemn the attack, and handed out flowers and candy to Arab cleaners and patrons in the food court to make symbolic amends for the last week’s attacks.
Hooliganism and racism on the part of Beitar fans is not a new phenomenon. Beitar remains the only Israeli professional soccer team never to have hired an Arab player.
Abbas Suan, an Israeli Arab soccer player and former member of Israel’s national soccer team, told Haaretz that Beitar “is the most dangerous team in the Israeli league today. They are very dangerous. They should be stopped. It is unacceptable for people to attack someone because of his religion or skin color.” Suan himself was attacked by Beitar fans in 2008.
Just over a month ago, fans accosted a bus filled with members of rival Arab-Israeli team Bnei Sakhnin, pelting it with debris and causing damage but no injuries.
The Israeli Soccer League has fined the team and docked points as punishment for fans’ behavior, most recently last April.