The Betar Jerusalem soccer fans who raised a giant banner two weeks ago at a
soccer game in Teddy Stadium claiming “Betar is pure forever” are part of a
dramatic increase in racist incidents in the political and religious arenas over
the past three years, according to the director of an anti-racism
Dr. Gadi Gvaryahu, who oversees the 35 religious and secular
groups that make up the Bright Tag Coalition, tracks the increase in racist
incidents to the release of The King’s Torah three years ago, which sanctioned
killing non-Jews in extremist religious circles.
But, while the Betar
incident has Israeli media and commentators wringing their hands over the
entrenched racism in soccer, especially Betar Jerusalem, Gvaryahu warned the
problem is widespread across society.
“Someone who thinks [racism] is
just in Betar Jerusalem, like it’s a protected nature reserve – well, that’s
just ridiculous,” he said on Wednesday, in between planning meetings for
upcoming Bright Tag events. “When there’s racism against Arabs, there’s also
racism against Ethiopian immigrants or against Mizrahim [Jews from North
Africa]. Racism is an infectious disease. If you don’t stop it... it will also
enter into your home.”
On Thursday, Jerusalem police chief Yossi Prienti
met with legal advisers and the Betar Jerusalem management discussed ways to
“combat the phenomenon of racism among fans during Betar Jerusalem's games and
practices,” said police spokesman Shmuel Ben- Ruby.
On Sunday, Bright Tag
activists will demonstrate outside Teddy Stadium as Betar Jerusalem plays Bnei
Sakhnin, a team from the Arab city of Sakhnin in the Galilee.
activists belong to organizations as varied as Peace Now and the settler
movement Yerushalom, Kolekh religious feminist group, Bina secular yeshiva, and
Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox movements. They plan to hoist a giant banner
with the words “Betar is tolerant forever.”
The Bright Tag coalition’s
name is a pun on the term “price tag,” when extremists vandalize army property
or property belonging to Arabs and Christians as “payback” for action taken
against the settlements, such as evacuations or home demolitions. The price tag
phenomenon grew out of the same King’s Torah circles, and articles in the
extreme national religious camp that advocated for harming army property any
time the army carries out anti-settlement activity, Gvaryahu said.
coalition was founded during Hanukkah in 2011 during a spate of price tag
attacks related to the impending evacuation of Migron.
While racism needs
to be attacked at the root, Gvaryahu offered some immediate steps for Betar
Jerusalem: stop the games immediately if fans start chanting the traditional
club fight song “Muhammed is dead,” a game time tradition that stretches back
more than a decade.
“How would we react if at a soccer game in eastern
Europe they started singing ‘Kill the Jews?’” he asked.
said police need to take an increased role in filming the stands during games
and arresting players for incitement. Police also need to send a stronger
message to Jews that carry out price tag attacks. Gvaryahu pointed out that in
the past three years, extremists have vandalized 20 Muslim and Christian houses
of worship, but only three people were arrested in connection with a single
attack and even fewer were indicted.
“Our job is to put a projector on
this issue. We need to collect video evidence to show that it’s not just five
people [at Betar games]. There needs to be a serious change at the roots,” said
Gvaryahu, who comes from a religious background and is the
field coordinator for Yod Bet B’heshvan Forum for promoting tolerance in memory
of the Rabin assassination, notes that Judaism has a unique and complex
relationship with racism.
On the one hand, the idea of Jews as the
“chosen people” is rooted deep in tradition, and can easily be manipulated to
claim that Jews are superior to other races. But on the other hand, religious
texts have a deep appreciation for the concept of “love the stranger, for you
were strangers in Egypt.”
The Bright Tag Coalition is currently working
on a high school curriculum to highlight the Jewish texts that preach tolerance
and love for fellow men, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, such as the Book of
Additionally, Bright Tag wants to initiate more structured
meetings between Jewish and Arab students, since ignorance often breeds
Gvaryahu noted that Israeli society is much more intolerant
than other Western countries.
Part of this is because of the large
division between Jews and Arabs, or even secular and religious, who very rarely
interact because of the way Israeli society is stratified and divided by
communities. “Add to this the fact that we’re at war, surrounded by enemies on
all sides,” Gvaryahu said. “People get confused between fighting against the
enemy and the fact that we live with the enemy’s cousins.”
Bright Tag coalition faces an uphill battle. On Thursday, students from a high
school in north Jerusalem unfurled a banner in the middle of their hallway with
the same line “Betar is Pure Forever.”
According to reports in Yediot
Yerushalayim, about a dozen students cheered when students surreptitiously
unveiled the banner during passing time in the main lobby of the school. A few
students were outraged, but the majority of the other students simply continued
to their class, choosing to ignore the racist message hanging in front of their