(photo credit: (Adi Avishai))
Something extraordinary happened at Teddy Stadium on Saturday night. Something even more remarkable than Betar Jerusalem’s comeback from two-goals down to defeat Hapoel Ramat Gan 3-2 for its first Premier League victory in almost two months.
Three days after the Israel Football Association sentenced their club to host a league match in front of empty stands for the second time this season, the largely silent majority of Betar supporters finally stood up to the loud and often violent racist minority.
It was less than three weeks ago that Betar was forced to host Hapoel Petah Tikva at an empty Teddy as a punishment following the violent incidents at the match against Bnei Yehuda last month.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back was last week’s decision by the IFA disciplinary court that the team will play Ironi Kiryat Shmona on December 18 in front of a silent stadium for the bigoted abuse its followers directed at Toto Tamuz (who only left the team earlier this season) and Salim Toama during the showdown with Hapoel Tel Aviv two weeks ago.
Betar has carried the stigma of being a racist club for many years.
However, it is an overwhelming minority of the fans, rather than any faction within Betar itself, who are in fact racist.
And on Saturday, the majority of Jerusalem supporters at long last took a firm stand against those who have stained their club irrevocably.
The eastern stand, which seats many of the known troublemakers, was left closed on Saturday as a punishment for the racist insults aimed at Bnei Sakhnin players at Teddy last month, resulting in many of the scallywags watching the match from the northern terrace.
It was there that their vociferous racism was encountered by the anger of Betar fans who have had enough of seeing their club’s reputation being dragged through the mud.
Several arguments and confrontations took place, with fans bravely challenging the violent bigots, doing their best to silence them.
“Everyone seated in the western stand began to boo when around 300 fans started singing racist songs and cursed Betar chairman Itzik Kornfein,” said one Jerusalem supporter, who volunteers as an observer for the New Israel Fund’s Kick Racism Out of Israeli Football campaign.
With the club losing hundreds of thousands of shekels as a result of the IFA’s penalties, Kornfein has also come up with a creative idea to ensure the racist chants go unheard.
“At the start of the match the PA announcer asked the supporters to
avoid singing racist songs, and the two times that they did high volume
music was sounded so that the chants would be drowned out,” the NIF
“There is a group of three hooligans that conducts all the songs and
chants. They are in charge of the eastern stand. They will only stop if
they are arrested during a match and charged for racist chanting.
“Maybe we should send them to an SS Lazio match in Italy and see what they feel when they are abused for being Jewish.”
Betar will, in all likelihood, be the cellar-dweller in the New Israel
Fund’s Fair Play standings – which register racist incidents – for an
eighth straight season when they are announced next May.
However, real progress is being made thanks to the club’s management and the team’s true fans.
It may still take some time, but Saturday marked a significant turning point in eradicating racism from Israeli firstname.lastname@example.org