The owner of Beitar Jerusalem said Friday he was putting the soccer club up for sale because he felt ashamed of supporters’ hooliganism in Belgium.
Eli Tabib’s decision followed rioting by fans during an away match Thursday against Sporting Charleroi. “I’m done with soccer,” Tabib said on his return to Israel Friday.
A number of Beitar fans threw smoke bombs, flares and firecrackers at a Europa League qualifying round match in the Belgian city.
Fans from the opposite team chanted anti-Semitic slogans at the Israelis, Belgian media reported.
Rioting started within seconds of the game starting.
Some Beitar fans also displayed a flag of the banned racist Kach party. Tabib approached them before the game to put it away, but it later reappeared, Channel 2 news reported.
Beitar lost the match, in which Charleroi goalkeeper Nicolas Penneteau was hit by a hard object thrown from the crowd in the area where Beitar fans were gathered.
Habib later went to the dressing room to apologize to Penneteau on behalf of the club.
“I am ashamed … I have decided to end my involvement with Israeli soccer and am returning to the United States … I will appoint a trustee to run the club until somebody is willing to buy it,” Tabib said in a statement.
Police briefly questioned seven Beitar supporters at the airport on Friday, and promised “a wave of arrests.”
Beitar’s fan base is a bastion of Israel’s political right wing. A group of supporters known as “La Familia” that the club has been unable to control has been openly abusive to Israel’s Arab minority.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also 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.”
Beitar coach Slobodan Drapic said Beitar’s fans had been provoked, although he did not explain why some had come to the match with the flares and smoke bombs. It was unclear how so many devices were smuggled into the stadium.
Beitar fans have by far the worst disciplinary record in Israel’s Premier League and over the past decade the team has faced about two dozen hearings and received various punishments, including points deductions, fines and matches without audiences.
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev said on her Facebook page Thursday that a “small group of thugs” had defamed Israeli soccer, and called on Israeli police to cooperate with their Belgian counterparts.
Israel Radio quoted Belgian police officials as saying that Israeli police had not adequately forewarned them of possible trouble-making.
Beitar is due to host Charleroi in the return leg at Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek Stadium next week. Regev said security, which is always heavy at Beitar matches, would be tightened further.
Regev said Beitar fans should be banned from attending, and told Israeli radio on Friday that she would explore the possibility.