|Photo by: Nir Elias/Reuters|
PM slams 'disgraceful' arson attack on Betar HQ
By MELANIE LIDMAN
Incident seemingly connected to soccer club's battle against violence, racism after fans protest signing of 2 Muslim players.
Arsonists caused heavy damage to Betar Jerusalem’s management offices on Friday
in what police are calling an attack by a small group of racist fans motivated
by the soccer team’s decision to sign two Muslim players.
firefighting crews responded to flames engulfing the offices at the team’s
practice facility in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood early on Friday morning.
Jerusalem Fire and Rescue spokesman Asaf Abras said the fire, which was
immediately identified as arson, wreaked havoc on the office rooms, covering the
inside with soot and smoke.
The fire also destroyed Betar
The club has struggled for two weeks with violent fans who
oppose the signing of two Muslim Chechen players.
During the January 26
home game against Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv, fans raised an enormous banner that
read, “Betar pure forever” and sang anti-Arab chants.
arrested more than 20 people in connection with violence and with incitement
against Muslims. On February 1, police arrested three fans after they showed up
outside of the team’s practice, threw rocks at players’ cars and attacked a
On Thursday, the Jerusalem district attorney indicted
four fans for their role in the “Betar is pure forever” sign.
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu slammed the arson attack. “Such behavior is
shameful,” he said on Friday.
“We cannot countenance such racism. The
Jewish people, who suffered from boycotts and ostracism, must be a light unto the nations.”
Upon seeing the damage, Betar chairman Itzik
Kornfein said the attack was “awful.”
“I have no doubt that the police
will reach the culprits and put them behind bars.
Betar will continue to
fight racism and violence without fear,” he said, adding that the arson would
not deter the team.
Betar Jerusalem responded furiously to the incident,
saying the arson “crosses a red line when it comes to the issues of violence and
racism that we are dealing with,” the Sport 5 website reported.
people who perpetrated this despicable act caused indescribable damage to
memorabilia connected to Betar’s history.”
On Sunday, Betar plays host to
Bnei Sakhnin, a team from the Arab town of Sakhnin in the Galilee.
Muslim Khuchiyev from Grozny, the capital of the the Chechen Republic, Russia,
as well as a representative from the Chechen parliament will attend the game to
support the two new Chechen players.
The players at the center of the
controversy, defender Dzhabrail Kadiyev and striker Zaur Sadayev, were signed to
Betar from the Chechen team Terek Grozny of the Russian Premier
Kadiyev may play in Sunday’s game, though Sadayev is injured,
according to Betar spokesman Asaf Shaked.
Jerusalem police spokesman
Shmuel Ben-Ruby said Teddy Stadium will be open to fans, hand have a “markedly
increased” police presence with hundreds of police officers and undercover
detectives both inside and outside the stadium.
“Police will conduct
exhaustive searches at the entrance to the stadium to ensure that no one enters
with signs that are racist or incite racism,” Ben-Ruby said.
Stand of Teddy Stadium, where the hardcore fan base sits, including the La
Familia fan group, will be closed on Sunday. The Israel Football Association
closed the East Stand for five matches to punish the team for the January 26
Fans from Bnei Sakhnin will park at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo
and will arrive at Teddy Stadium in organized shuttles with police
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat announced on Friday that
she intends to attend Sunday’s game in order to send a message of support to
Betar’s management in their fight against racism.
“This [the arson] is
the most despicable act and a dangerous display of criminal violence,” Livnat
said. “The law enforcement and courts must send a strong message that soccer
fields and sports are not outside of the law.”
Also on Sunday,
anti-racism coalition Bright Tag plans to hold a demonstration outside of Teddy
Stadium during the start of the game to protest against racism among Betar fans.
Betar fans are known in Israel as one of the most racist fan bases, and team
fight songs such as “Muhammed is dead” are regularly chanted during
Jerusalem Post staff and Allon Sinai contributed to this report. •