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Bright Tag to protest racism at Betar matches
By MELANIE LIDMAN
02/08/2013
Director Gadi Gvaryahu: It’s an infectious disease; If you don’t stop it... it will enter your home.
 
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 coalition.

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.

The 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.

The 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.

Gvaryahu also 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.

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 Jonah.

Additionally, Bright Tag wants to initiate more structured meetings between Jewish and Arab students, since ignorance often breeds intolerance.

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.”

Still, the 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 faces.
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