Leading Israeli soccer players and Jewish and Arab children taking part in joint soccer training will gather in Haifa on Wednesday for a multi-ethnic soccer tournament and a conference on combating racism in sport.
The event is part of an anti-racism action week taking place throughout Europe under the auspices of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and its daughter organization, Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE).
The vice chair of FARE’s board of directors, Raluca Negulescu, will join the players and youths in Haifa.
The Israeli event is organized by the New Israel Fund’s anti-discrimination campaign, “Kick It Out Israel,” in collaboration with the Israel Football Association, the Football Players’ Association, Haifa’s two teams and the municipality.
At noon, a panel at Haifa’s Leo Baeck High School will discuss racism-related issues in Israeli sport. Speakers will include Elisha Levy, manager of the Israeli national team, current international Dekel Keinan of Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Haifa’s captain Yossi Dora, Ahmed Abed, who plays for Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona, former female international Michal Ravitz and former national team midfielder Abbas Suan.
Later, 130 Arab and Jewish children in six teams involved in projects recently given special awards by Kick It Out, will face off in tournaments in Kiryat Haim, just north of Haifa, before an audience of Jewish and Arab pupils. Watching the games will be Edna Bekenstein, chair of Israel’s Council for the Prevention of Violence in Sport.
Racism in Israeli football has been colored by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In recent years, games between Bnei Sakhnin – Israel’s only premier league team from an Arab town – and Beitar Jerusalem, which has been plagued by persistent violence from a tight-knit organization of racist fans, have required up to 600 police officers, private security guards and undercover detectives in attendance to ensure the sides do not clash on the sidelines of the matches.
Beitar Jerusalem fans have invented and often brought to the field a litany of racist chants, among them “Muhammad is dead” and “Death to the Arabs.” In May, a group of Beitar fans hurled smoke bombs and firecrackers onto the field after their team lost by 3-0 to Bnei Sakhnin in a racially-charged match.
In April, Jewish-Arab tensions flared after a scoreless playoff game between Bnei Sakhnin and Maccabi Tel Aviv descended into a brawl on the field. Officials and staff from both clubs were summoned before the national soccer association’s disciplinary court.