The owner of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team has suggested he may part ways with the club following racist chants by fans against a new player with a Muslim-sounding name.
Some 4,000 Beitar supporters on Wednesday attended the team’s first practice of the preseason, in which the club’s Nigerien midfielder Ali Mohamed participated after being signed during the off-season.
Video from the practice showed a number of fans clad in Beitar’s black and yellow colors chanting “Mohamed is dead” and “Ali is dead.”
Police arrested four people for chanting racist slogans, throwing a smoke grenade, disturbing the peace and operating a drone without a license.
Following the practice session, Beitar put out a statement condemning the chants and said owner Moshe Hogeg was weighing his future with the team.
Hogeg, a high-tech entrepreneur, said after buying the team in August that he hoped to put it on a “new path” and that religion would no longer be a factor in the club’s personnel decisions.
משה חוגג שוקל את המשך דרכו בבית״ר. אבל אני צריכה להתבייש. יפה. ולא אוהדי ביתר שמסרבים להתבגר. pic.twitter.com/cAxguYNtbF
— osher vaknin ???????? (@osher_vak) July 10, 2019
After signing Mohamed, who identifies as Christian, Hogeg said he received threats from far-right fans to his phone, but claimed he was unconcerned by them or by Mohamed’s religion or origin, and vowed to sue any who threatened him.
Beitar, one of Israel’s top soccer teams, is known for its long history of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment, and is the only club in the Israeli league that has never had an Arab Muslim player. Officials on the team have indicated in the past that it is unofficial policy.
The team has been trying to change its image in recent years and in 2017 it received an award from President Reuven Rivlin for its efforts to tackle racism and for significantly reducing the number of racist chants at its games.