As if the Israel Broadcasting Authority didn’t have enough problems on its plate, it now has to deal with allegations of racism involving veteran Channel One sports commentator and former Betar Jerusalem football player Danny Neuman.
Maariv broke the story on Wednesday quoting Neuman as saying that the fans of Hapoel Tel Aviv were all leftists, and if he could, he would transfer them together with all the Arabs in Israel.
“After all, Hapoel Tel Aviv is the team with the largest number of Arab fans,” Neuman was quoted as saying.
Although the remarks were not made on air, Neuman’s antagonism towards both Hapoel Tel Aviv and the Arab community was allegedly expressed last Monday prior to the game between Kiryat Shmone and Hapoel Tel Aviv for which he was the commentator.
Before the game, Neuman was engaged in conversation in the presence of the television production crew and television and radio reporters.
Neuman has never made a secret of his right wing political views, and has frequently spoken of them at length according to Maariv, but in the past, he was more circumspect than he was this week.
Some of those present remonstrated with him, and by the end of the game,
when he realized that he had gone too far, he retracted what he’d said
earlier about transferring Hapoel Tel Aviv fans, but stuck to his guns
vis-à-vis the Arabs.
Neuman denied the comments attributed to him, saying they were inaccurate and taken out of context.
“The Hapoel Tel Aviv fans hate me from the days when I used to play for
Betar,” Neuman said, “so why shouldn’t I hate them?” Neuman also denied
having said that Arabs should be transferred, adding that he had more
than a few Arab friends.
He claimed that he said that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was in
favor of transfer and that in the State of Israel, all views should be
Neuman declared that he was sufficiently self-confident to be able to
say whatever he believed in, and whoever distorted his words had a
premeditated reason for doing so.
“What I can say,” he added, “is that all the people I was speaking to wore red shirts.”
In response to the Maariv story, the Shutfut-Sharakah Forum, a coalition
of civil society organizations with mixed Jewish and Arab membership,
has written to IBA chairman Dr. Amir Gilat, demanding that Neuman be
In conversation with IBA colleagues, Neuman has maintained his contention that he was either misquoted or quoted out of context.
He told some people that he was raised on the teachings of Jabotinsky
who advocated respect for the other, and therefore he had no racist axe
to grind against the Arabs.
The head of the sports department at Israel Television, Uri Levi, is defending Neuman thus far.
In a letter to Israel Television General Manager Moushon Matzliach, Levi
wrote that he has listened carefully to a recording of the broadcast
for any untoward remark relating to the Hapoel Tel Aviv fans, and
instead had heard praise for the fact that so many of them had taken the
trouble to travel north for the game.
Moreover, Levi wrote that he had also attended the game and had been
with the production crew before, during and after the match, and at no
time did he hear Neuman make any disparaging remarks about Israeli Arabs
or Hapoel Tel Aviv fans. In fact, he had never heard Neuman insult
either of the two.
He had spoken to Neuman after the allegations were published, and Neuman
had denied that there was any substance to them. Levi didn’t know what
private conversations Neuman may have had with anyone, but no complaints
about racism had been forthcoming at the time.
Levi’s take on the publication of the story was that it was an act of
incitement which put Neuman and his family in danger. Levi recommended
that their safety be guarded.
Yet he was sufficiently savvy to propose that an investigation be
mounted into all aspects of the case, with further steps being based on
Israel Radio sportscaster Carmit Rubin, who was in the broadcasting
stand with Neuman, told Army Radio that the allegations published in
Maariv were true.
“Whoever knows me, knows that I’m not a liar,” she said.
“Uri Levi argues that I distorted what Neuman said. But Uri Levi wasn’t there during the conversation.”
Meanwhile, Neuman has not yet been dismissed or suspended.
The situation at the moment is Rubin’s word against his.
On Thursday night Neuman asked IBA director-general Moti Sklaar to
release him from commenting on Hapoel games until the probe is
Sklaar has turned the matter over to IBA ombudsman Elisha Spiegelman.
In preliminary investigations, both Levi and Matzliach found Neuman free of blame.