Betar Jerusalem captain Aviram Bruchian tested the stormy waters of racism on Wednesday night, hoping that his club's record of never signing an Arab player soon becomes history.
"Personally, I would be happy to have an Arab player on Betar," Bruchian said, speaking at an event at Jerusalem's City Hall organized by Kick It Out - a New Israel Fund initiative aimed at ridding racism and violence from Israeli soccer.
"I have a lot of Arab friends that play soccer in Israel. But I don't think that the Betar fans are ready for it."
Betar is the only Israeli club to have never signed an Arab player, and according to Bruchian, many of its fans would like that distinction to remain.
"At this point, it seems as though the Betar fans don't want it to happen," he said. "Sadly, racism still exists in the stands of our stadium. I wish I could say that it doesn't. But I do think that we're on the path to getting rid of it."
Betar owner Arkadi Gaydamak raised the possibility of signing an Arab player when he first took over at the club in 2005, but backed off after angry reactions from groups of Jerusalem supporters.
Current main sponsor Guma Aguiar has done his best to avoid confronting the issue, telling The Jerusalem Post in May that he is "not going to contract an Arab player just to be politically correct."
"It's all about talent," Aguiar said. "Unless the entire team agrees that this guy belongs on the team and every single person would think he will be a huge success. He's got to be better than the Brazilians."
At one point during a panel discussion of Israeli players at various professional levels on Wednesday, Bruchian asked Shai Aharon, captain of Hapoel Jerusalem in the National League, whether Israel had made progress in eradicating racism from the soccer field.
"We'll have made progress when that question doesn't have to be asked," Aharon answered.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat also spoke at the event, but left before Bruchian's comments.
Bruchian and Aharon spoke to hundreds of youth players from eight Jewish and Arab teams around Jerusalem.
"We need to allow the voices of these players to be heard," said Itzik Shanan, NIF director of communications in Israel and founder of Kick It Out.
"In Europe, the players have played a big part in fighting racism in the stadiums, but it hasn't happened as much in Israel. They are tremendous role models for their fans and for future generations of soccer players. Bruchian and Aharon are both outspoken, talented, articulate players, and they want widespread change."
Jeremy Last contributed to this report.
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