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I suppose Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer fans should be congratulated for their restraint; they didn't start making monkey sounds - chanting "hoo-hoo-hoo" as loud as they could - at the black players on the opposing team until one of them scored a goal.
It's quite a sensation to hear "hoo-hoo-hoo" every time a black player touches the ball when you're watching a soccer game in a big stadium in Tel Aviv. That was the scene at Bloomfield Stadium on the Saturday before last during the game between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Kfar Saba.
None of the chanters were sitting next to me and my two sons, although I could hear some of them a few rows back. In the next section, Section 10, where the hard-core Maccabi fans sit, the "hoo-hoo-hoo" made a tremendous din.
Observers in the stands for the New Israel Fund's "Kick Racism out of Football" project put the number of chanters at 2,000. It was probably more like a few hundred in the overall crowd of 2,000 in Section 10. But since none of the fans was seen or heard protesting, it did seem like all 2,000 of them were chanting "hoo-hoo-hoo" at Hapoel's black players and, in effect, they were.
BLOOMFIELD wasn't the only stadium where you could have heard monkey chants that day. According to NIF's observers, fans of Hapoel Tel Aviv, Betar Jerusalem and Maccabi Netanya also did it to opposing black players. All but one of the targets were foreign players, usually from Africa.
The exception was Hapoel Tel Aviv's Baruch Dego, probably the best-known Ethiopian Jewish immigrant in Israel, who was subjected to the taunt by the fans of Betar Jerusalem.
There was one bright spot on the anti-racism front that Saturday; some of the Hapoel Tel Aviv fans tried to shut up the monkey chanters in their midst. That takes an awful lot of guts. It can mean standing up to a mob.
We all know the common excuse for Israeli racism against Arabs - it's not really racism, you see, it's just the unfortunate but finally understandable reaction of people who have been provoked by a history of Arab terror, Arab war and Arab hatred.
But what is the excuse for the eruptions of "hoo-hoo-hoo" from the stands at Israeli soccer games? What did people in Ghana do to Israel? What did Ethiopian Jewry do?
THE MONKEY chants have been going on in Israel for 15 years, ever since the first black player, Cyril McEnackey of Cameroon, came into the league. It's become common, part of the game.
None of the sports pages in the newspapers mentioned the taunting at the game I saw. In fact, Yediot Aharonot ran a full-page feature on two of Hapoel Kfar Saba's Ghanaian players - and the jungle noises they'd just endured weren't even mentioned.
So maybe Israeli racism against Arabs can't be explained away by Arab hostility alone. Maybe Israeli racism against Arabs is, at least in part, an outgrowth of Israeli racism in general. Personally, I don't think there's any maybe about it.
To put things in proportion, though, soccer racism - including anti-Semitism - is much worse in European countries, such as Spain, Hungary, Romania and Italy, than it is in Israel. It used to be murderous in Britain until lawmakers and police started cracking down on racist expressions at the games; underneath the surface, of course, the sentiments of British soccer hooligans haven't changed.
I've never thought Israel was unusually racist in comparison with other countries. But I do think Israel is unusually hypocritical about racism, and may even be the world leader in hypocrisy about racism, because our national identity is based on Jewish victimhood of a form of racism - anti-Semitism - and we never stop lecturing the world about it.
LET'S BE honest: The next time Kofi Annan comes to Israel, would anybody advise Ehud Olmert to take him to a Betar Jerusalem soccer game?
There's one thing about Israeli soccer racism that never gets mentioned publicly, but I think everyone who follows Israeli soccer knows it: The fans chanting abuse at blacks and Arabs are almost always rough, uneducated Mizrahim. They, along with Russian immigrants, are the demographic group that produces most of the pure, primitive racism - the kind that doesn't stop at Arabs by any means - that's found in this country.
I'm not saying all uneducated Mizrahim and all Russian immigrants are racists, but I'm saying that Israelis who show open contempt not only for Arabs, but for blacks and other non-whites as well tend to be uneducated Mizrahim or Russian immigrants.
At Israeli soccer games, the chants of "hoo-hoo-hoo" at black players, along with the whole repertoire of abuse directed at Arab players, is heard almost exclusively from Mizrahi punks and brawlers.
The monkey chanting has actually gone down over the last 15 years, but the taunting of Arab players is getting worse, said Itzik Shanan, who started the soccer racism project for the NIF a few years ago. Something I missed at the game I took my sons to, but which was written up by NIF observers, was the 50 or so Maccabi Tel Aviv fans who were singing songs of praise to Baruch Goldstein.
SINCE JULY of last year the law says Israelis convicted of creating racist spectacles can be jailed for up to a year. Shanan says police have made several such arrests at soccer games, but I didn't see them budge at Bloomfield. The fans in Section 10 were completely free to act like animals in the jungle, literally.
"Why are they making that noise?" my seven-year-old asked me. "Shhh, tell him after we get home," my 11-year-old, the soccer player in the family, whispered.
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