A mock funeral for the Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer club, complete with effigies, a coffin, wreaths and mourning notices, was held by the team’s crosstown rival Sunday, drawing charges of incitement.
Dozens of hard-core supporters of Maccabi Tel Aviv, known as the Fanatics, arrived at the team’s match against Maccabi Petah Tikva carrying a coffin representing the death of Hapoel Tel Aviv, which had been relegated from the premier league a day earlier.
Inside the coffin was a effigy wearing the red shirt and scarf of Hapoel Tel Aviv. Hundreds of black and white “mourning” notices were distributed, which said, “With great happiness and a full heart we announce the death of the late Hapoel Tel Aviv club.”
Later supporters lit memorial candles for Hapoel and set red and white scarves alight.
A spokesperson for Hapoel, Boaz Shuval, decried the mock funeral, calling on Maccabi’s Canadian owner Mitch Goldhar to put an end to the incitement.
“Mitch Goldhar sits in Toronto and talks about playing in Europe, while the fans of Maccabi Tel Aviv behave and dress like a real terrorist organization. This is incitement to murder; where are the police here?” he said.
While acknowledging that it is legitimate for rivals to enjoy Hapoel’s downfall, Shuval said that the behavior of the Maccabi fans showed their moral degradation, which he said was even worse than relegation.
In response, a spokesperson for Maccabi said that the actions of these fans do not represent the club.
“Disgusting events of this sort alienate families and children from soccer and do not represent the spirit of the club or its values,” he said, adding that the management was working to stamp out racism and violence from the club.
Sports and culture Minister Miri Regev also sharply criticized the fans for their behavior.
“Last night I saw to the awful pictures and was appalled. This act was warning signal and crossed the red line,” she said. “We cannot allow our sports to contain such dangerous incidents of incitement and hatred. Our goal is to bring fans back to the stadiums, including families and children. Acts such as this have the opposite result.”
The Israel Football Association called on Maccabi to ensure this kind of behavior doesn’t happen again.
“We call upon the club heads to make it clear to their fans that they should not harm the reputation of the club they support. Anything that can incite, degrade, create future hatred and vengeance or harm mutual respect should not be part of the fan’s culture and must be condemned,” a spokesperson said.
Hapoel was relegated after 28 years in the first division of Israel soccer, finishing bottom of the table after a disappointing season coupled with financial troubles.
In December the club began the process of filing for bankruptcy, leading to an automatic penalty of nine points, without which deduction the reds would have avoided relegation.
Hapoel has been in the top flight since the inception of the Premier League. The club won the division title 13 times, though last season it finished in eighth place. The team qualified for the UEFA Cup three times, reaching the quarterfinals in 2002.