Foreign Ministry officials said Saturday afternoon that “the conduct of Beitar Jerusalem fans in Belgium was an attack on Israel’s image in the world.”
The comment refers to rioting by fans during an away match on Thursday against Sporting Charleroi.
“Beitar fans caused real damage to Israel’s image in the world, in a horror show of violence, racism and barbaric behavior. For many who watched the event unfold there is no difference between Beitar fans and the average Israeli. These rioters put a stain on an entire country. It will take a lot of effort to fix the impression left by these hooligans,” a Foreign Ministry official was quoted by Hebrew-language website Ynet as saying.
During the Thursday match a number of Beitar fans threw smoke bombs, flares and firecrackers. Charleroi goalkeeper Nicolas Penneteau was hit by a hard object thrown from the crowd in the area where Beitar fans were gathered and required treatment.
Fans from the opposite team chanted anti-Semitic slogans at the Israelis during the match, Belgian media reported.
The rioting began within seconds of the game starting.
Some Beitar fans also displayed a flag of the banned racist Kach party. Club owner Eli Tabib approached them before the game to put it away, but it later reappeared, Channel 2 news reported.
Beitar lost the match, and Tabib later went to the dressing room to apologize to Penneteau on behalf of the club.
Tabib said Friday he was putting the soccer club up for sale because he felt ashamed of the hooliganism of its fans in Belgium. “I’m done with football,” Tabib said on his return to Israel.
The match was one of a series of qualifiers in the UEFA Europa League.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the actions of the fans, saying Friday that a handful of rioters could not be allowed to tarnish Israel’s image.
The prime minister spoke with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, with the two agreeing to explore measures that can be taken against those responsible for Thursday’s events.
“It is good that the decisive majority of Beitar fans immediately condemned the behavior of that same small group,” Netanyahu said. “We will not allow them to besmirch an entire group of fans and harm the image of the state.”
According to Ynet, Foreign Ministry staffers are monitoring Belgian media reports and other outlets across Europe, where some called the Beitar fans “terrorists” and “vandals.”
“Not long ago, Israel managed to foil a Palestinian scheme to expel Israel from FIFA and here come these Beitar fans and in one fell stroke can cause all Israeli soccer to be banned from Europe,” said the Foreign Ministry official.
Meanwhile fans of the Israeli soccer team, known for their fierce nationalism and often racist behavior toward Arab players or teams, claim the Belgian fans ignited the first spark by hoisting Palestinian flags and performing a Nazi salute.
The management of Beitar Jerusalem published photos of the Belgian fans performing the hand gesture, and claimed it was this provocation that caused Beitar fans to erupt.