Fans of Beitar Jerusalem shout slogans during a match against Bnei Sakhnin as part of the Israeli Premier League.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
During a Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting on Wednesday to discuss outlawing Beitar Jerusalem hooligans, known as “La Familia,” Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev cautioned that collective punishment of law-abiding fans must be avoided.
The meeting was initiated by the chairman of the Knesset sports lobby, MK Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid), who described La Familia members as violent racists and said punishment has been too light on members of the group who rioted during a soccer match in Belgium last week.
“For years we have seen the organization La Familia act criminally on the sports field and increase violence in sports,” Razbozov said at the meeting. “The organization is motivated by racism, hatred and violence, and therefore I think it should be outlawed.”
“Despite police efforts to fight hooliganism,” he continued, “the legal system did not provide backup for the police, and that is why we are here today. This is an organization that everyone is afraid of... the same handful of radicals just come in and ruin the sport for everyone.”
While Regev (Likud) agreed in principle that swift action must be taken against violent and racist offenders, she cautioned that a policy of collective punishment must not be implemented for the actions of a few.
“Violence is not right – not among Jews and not among Arabs,” Regev said. “I met with sports organizations who want to return the fans to the playing fields. It is wrong to issue collective punishment for the sins of a few. La Familia is a group of fans and not a criminal organization.”
Still, citing stronger punitive measures enacted by the state attorney against violent fans of other professional sports teams in the country, Razbozov said La Familia must be outlawed.
If another extreme group of hooligans fills the vacuum left by La Familia, the same legal tools would be applied against them, he said.
Former Beitar Jerusalem chairman Itzik Kornfein countered that La Familia members are not terrorists, but primarily a “tiny faction” of juvenile delinquents who must be dealt with by the police.
He added that their conduct has cost the organization millions of shekels in financial losses.
“The police know how to do the job with the assistance of the judicial system,” said Kornfein. “The police have the names of the members of the organization.”
MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) said Israel should mirror the European league’s no-nonsense crackdown on hooliganism.
“Enforcement is lacking,” he contended.
MK Masud Gnaim (Joint List) added that La Familia’s vitriol is routinely directed at Arabs attending games.
“I never hear an Arab fan speaking ill of Moses [at matches],” he said. “But things said against the Prophet Muhammad are heard all the time. The problem is fascism and must be dealt with.”
Meanwhile, noting that some fans of Beitar Jerusalem’s Arab counterpart, Bnei Sakhnin, inject anti-Semitic slurs during matches, rightwing activist Itamar Ben-Gvir said legislators must also address unacceptable Arab conduct.
“Many police officers had to protect me when I waved the Israeli flag [at a game],” said Ben-Gvir. “There should be no difference in the law between fans of Beitar and Sakhnin fans.”
Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) added that the problem engendered by La Familia is nothing new, has deep-seated implications, and must be effectively dealt with before another incident unfolds.
“The problem goes much deeper than a football field,” he said. “If you do not handle it, the balloon will continue to inflate and explode in your face.”
Dr. Chaim Wismonsky, a representative from the State-Attorney’s Office, said that while Razbozov’s request to outlaw La Familia is being reviewed, more evidence must first be submitted to enact such an extreme measure.