Faced with possible sanctions following a tense encounter with an Arab Israeli team, Jerusalem’s Beitar soccer club announced drastic steps on Tuesday to combat racist chants heard during its matches.
Beitar, which has a history of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment, including among its management, said it would immediately close a section of its home stadium housing about a quarter of its 31,733 seats. Some of the fans in that section chanted racist slogans during Monday’s game against Bnei Sakhnin, including “I hate all Arabs,” “Burn down your village” and “[The prophet] Muhammad is dead.”
During the game, the announcer at Teddy Stadium called on fans to stop shouting the slogans, but they persisted. Beitar was down two goals during the match, but rallied to win 4-2.
Beitar, one of Israel’s top soccer clubs, which finished third last year in the Premier League last season and is currently one point shy of first place, has a suspended punishment of a two-point reduction for previous racist chants by fans.
“The club is taking the gloves off in the battle against violence and racism,” the club said in a statement. “The club is disgusted and will fight those fans who are severely harming it, in light of the behavior during the match against Bnei Sakhnin. Therefore, a decision has been made to close the eastern section to fans until further notice.”
The eastern section is infamous for housing the club’s most rabid fans, including the ultra-nationalist “La-Familia” faction. Last year, 19 members of the group were charged with attempted murder, including of rival supporters.
Beitar is also 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 said it would take “even more drastic measures, including revoking season tickets from fans in the eastern section. Players will be ordered to no longer address sections from which racist slogans are heard.”
“It is saddening and hurtful that during such a wonderful season, and after significant improvement over the last year in the fans’ behavior in regard to battling violence and racism, and also in the level of play, we have to deal with racism and derisive chants that directly harm the club,” the team said. “Anyone who behaves that way cannot be called a Beitar fan.”
The club pointed a finger at the Sports and Public Security ministries for neglecting the matter. “Where are members of the special unit created to directly deal with incidents of violence and racism in sports? We feel neglected and alone, and the unit’s helplessness was felt with regard to the match against Bnei Sakhnin.”
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who at the beginning of the match posted a video on her Facebook page in support of Beitar, said Tuesday she would call an “urgent meeting on the subject of violence,” adding that “we will take strong action and will not have any tolerance toward violence and racist calls in sports arenas.”
Regev defended the unit designed to combat violence in sports, saying it was “sufficiently professional,” and insisting that she is “very attentive” to teams’ input on the matter.