Beitar Jerusalem owner Hogeg to sell soccer team, cites ungrateful, racist fans

Tech entrepreneur and cryptocurrency trader says he is fed up with pumping massive sums into club only to be booed in the stadium by its supporters

Moshe Hogeg, Beitar Jerusalem owner, seen during the Israeli Premier League match between Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Beersheba at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, on August 25, 2019. (Flash90)
Moshe Hogeg, Beitar Jerusalem owner, seen during the Israeli Premier League match between Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Beersheba at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, on August 25, 2019. (Flash90)

Businessman Moshe Hogeg announced Thursday that he is selling Beitar Jerusalem, one of Israel’s most famous soccer teams, after three tumultuous years as owner that saw him confront an anti-Arab fanbase and try — but fail — to sell half of it to an Emirati businessman.

In a statement, Hogeg, 39, said that after consulting his family during the Rosh Hashanah festival he has decided to immediately leave Beitar and appoint lawyer Itzhak Yunger as a temporary trustee, citing the racist La Familia fan group as the reason.

“Beitar Jerusalem isn’t a business,” he wrote. “I and others before me have donated a lot of money to this club for its community. I have never asked for a medal or even a small thank-you. But on the other hand, with all due respect, it is unacceptable for me to donate massive sums every month, almost NIS 120 million ($37.5 million), and then when I enter the stadium to hear nonstop curses against me, my wife and even my children.”

“I was never deterred by La Familia. I fought racism and violence without fear. I brought in a Muslim player and never gave up, even today,” he said. “This struggle isn’t stopping and will continue after me.”

Hogeg, a tech entrepreneur and cryptocurrency trader, bought Beitar in 2018 and said he set out to change its culture from the “very beginning.”

However, he faced backlash from the notoriously racist anti-Arab factions among the club’s fans after in 2020 he sold a 50 percent stake in the club to Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family. Al Nahyan pledged to pump $90 million into the team in the coming decade.

Then Israel’s soccer association conducted an investigation that found a potential “significant gap” between Al Nahyan’s declared capital and what he owns in reality, business news website The Marker reported in January.

Members of La Familia group protest against the intention of Beitar owner Moshe Hogeg to sell a percentage of the group to a member of the United Arab Emirates royalty, at Beitar Jerusalem training ground in Jerusalem on December 4, 2020. (Flash90)

In February, Beitar Jerusalem said that the request to approve the deal, a move required by the Israel Football Association for it to go ahead, had been withdrawn due to a bureaucratic delay involving documents requested of Al Nahyan. Though it insisted the deal was only postponed, the IFA investigation into Al Nahyan, conducted by the Megiddo financial investigations company, reportedly concluded that the sheikh owns dozens of inactive firms and is allegedly connected with businessmen involved in fraud and money laundering.

Beitar Jerusalem owner Moshe Hogeg (center, black t-shirt), his new partner Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan (fourth from right), and the sheikh’s son Mohammad, Beitar’s new vice-chairman (third from right), discuss their new joint ownership of the Israeli soccer club at an online press conference from the UAE, December 8, 2020. At far-right is Solly Wolf, president of the UAE Jewish community. (Screenshot)

Israel established diplomatic ties with the UAE in September 2020 as part of the Abraham Accords sponsored by the Trump administration. It brought a flurry of investment by Emirati businesspeople in Israel.

Beitar is one of the country’s most storied franchises, counting Israeli presidents and prime ministers among its fans.

But it also has drawn negative attention for many years being the only major club never to have an Arab player. Israel’s Arab minority makes up roughly 20% of the population, and Arab players star on rival teams and on the country’s national squad.

Club officials have in the past said their hands were tied by a hardcore base of far-right fans who wield significant clout over personnel decisions. A small group of fans, known as La Familia, has been known to whoop like monkeys when an opposing team’s player from Africa would touch the ball, and to chant “death to Arabs” toward rival Arab players.

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