betar fans 88.298.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger [file])
Russian-Israeli billionaire tycoon and Betar Jerusalem owner Arkadi Gaydamak said Monday that a heated soccer match was "not an appropriate place" for a moment of silence for late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
"A soccer match was not the appropriate place to ask [for an] expression of position of commemoration of memory," Gaydamak told The Jerusalem Post. "It was not the right place to do it."
His comments came a day after hundreds of Betar Jerusalem soccer fans erupted in loud boos during a minute of silence on the 12th anniversary of Rabin's assassination.
Gaydamak condemned the behavior of the soccer fans, calling them "disrespectful," but also criticized organizers of the match for calling for the moment of silence.
"People went to the soccer game not to express political discussions," he said.
In contrast, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a die-hard Betar fan from childhood, voiced outrage Monday over the widely condemned incident.
"I detest these brutish and violent people who, I'm sorry to say, are a sizable sector of the fans," Olmert said Monday.
"I want to state in the clearest, angriest terms, that this behavior - not of a small group, as some would like to minimize it, but of a large, loud, influential and raging group - was wicked and unbearable," he added.
Gaydamak, who is mulling entry into national politics or running in next year's Jerusalem mayoral race, charged that Olmert and other politicians were using the event for political and personal motives.
The Betar Jerusalem crowd's extremist reaction, which would have been unthinkable just years ago even among the most ultra-nationalist and racist supporters of the soccer team, was the latest sign that incitement to violence, intolerance and hate mongering are on the rise in the country as the government presses forward with peace talks with the Palestinians.
Betar Jerusalem's management issued a statement condemning the behavior.
"We are ashamed and insulted that there are such fans among us. We are sure that the overwhelming majority of our fans will join us in condemning the calls," the statement said.
But the head of Israel's soccer federation acknowledged that a large number of fans booed the mention of Rabin's name.
"It's not just a handful. That's what's so appalling... It was, I'm afraid, the majority of the crowd that was there," Avi Luzon said in an interview with Army Radio.
He added that the federation's legal department had already started looking into opening disciplinary proceedings against Betar Jerusalem.
His comments came as condemnations of the fans' behavior poured in, both from Olmert and an array of Israeli parliamentarians across the political spectrum, including the Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu.
The incident came just one day after Israeli far-right activists put up posters of President Shimon Peres wearing an Arab headdress in Jerusalem over the words "Peres, president of the Arabs." Similar placards against Rabin were common in the months leading up to his 1995 assassination.
"We've been there before," Olmert told a business conference in Tel Aviv. "We remember those days 12 years ago, and I remember the atmosphere that was created in the street."
"The extremist element of the right wing is returning to the streets, and to make it more tragic, it's returning on November 4," the dean of Israeli political columnists Nahum Barnea wrote in the Yediot Aharonot daily.
The anniversary of Rabin's assassination was overshadowed this year by his killer Yigal Amir's son's circumcision ceremony, which was held Sunday in the maximum-security prison where Amir is serving a life sentence.