The new owner of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club says “religion” will no longer be used as a criteria for signing players, suggesting Arabs may be joining the multi-time former Israeli champion team long associated with right-wing political parties.
In making the comment, he also suggested Arabs were unwanted on the team’s roster heretofore.
“Beitar is not a racist club. From today, religion will no longer be a factor in the choice of the club’s players,” new owner Moshe Hogeg assured at a press conference on Wednesday.
Merit alone would be considered when adding players, the businessman added. “To sign a player solely because he is Arab would also be a form of racism.”
The club, which has its roots in the right-wing Beitar movement, has never fielded an Arab player.
They are the only team in the Israeli league not to do so.
A group of hardcore Beitar fans, known as “La Familia,” is famous for racist violence and anti-Arab protests, and often courts controversy with chants of “death to Arabs” during matches.
Dozens of the hardcore fans, dubbed “ultras,” have been arrested in the past following attacks on rival supporters and Arabs at stadiums.
The racism and violence that accompany many Beitar games is a key factor in the decline in attendance at Beitar’s home stadium, Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium.
The club’s games frequently require a bolstered police presence in expectation of said violence.
In 2013, the club’s signing of two Muslim players originating from Chechnya sparked tension with some fans, leading to the team hiring bodyguards for the players.
The club’s offices were also the target of an arson attack blamed on the racist extremists that destroyed all their trophies, including their six national championship cups.
Beitar has been trying to change its image in recent years. Last year they received an award from the Israeli president for their efforts to tackle racism.