It is with a depressing regularity that racism rears its ugly head in Israeli soccer.
Just when you hope that the
problem has been eradicated, you hear that hundreds of Betar Jerusalem fans
rioted at Malha Mall, chanting racist songs at Arab workers.
videos of the incident taken by Betar fans and eyewitness accounts, the
disturbance lasted for approximately 40 minutes, with supporters chanting “Death
to Arabs!” and “Muhammad is dead!” before police and mall security guards
Police finally opened an investigation to look into the
incident on Sunday, six days after it occurred, and although no injuries or
damage was reported, it is still quite inexplicable why a single arrest has yet
to be made.
Everyone is aware of the problem, including Betar, which
strongly condemns every incident of violence and racism and has been trying to
eliminate racist elements from its fan base, but no one has been able to come up
with an effective solution for such disgraceful behavior.
And not only
are matters not improving, but according to Rifaat “Jimmy” Turk they are
actually getting worse.
The 57-year-old Turk became the first Arab to
play for the Israel national team in 1976, ending his career with 33 appearances
for the blue-and-white.
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The legendry Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder was a Tel
Aviv council member for 10 years until 2008 and set up The Association for
Sports, Culture and Education in Jaffa in 2000 with the aim of helping
struggling youth regardless of ethnicity and religion.
Turk has been the
target of abuse his entire life and he believes that racism is at an all time
“The racism has only gotten worse with time,” Turk said.
may not be as much in the open as it was in the past, but that is only because
it has become more sophisticated.
“For example, in the recent players’
poll to determine the Premier League’s player of the year, Ahmed Saba won by a
huge margin but not one of 19 Betar Jerusalem players selected him.
“You can say all you want that this is a democracy and
everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I agree with that. But if that isn’t
racism than what is? “Betar doesn’t want an Arab player and that’s
“The problem is that the club allows the fans to dictate the
“Anyway, if I was asked, I wouldn’t recommend to an Arab
player to play for Betar.
“You shouldn’t play somewhere where you are not
While the police and judiciary system usually take all the blame
for the situation, Turk believes it is the Israel Football Association which
holds the key to putting matters right.
“The biggest problem is the
football association,” he claimed. “They just sit around and do nothing. They
waste time setting up committees, but do nothing.
“They take money from
the country to fight racism, but they don’t. The racism has only gotten worse in
recent years and they have not done a thing.
“You sit at home watching a
match on TV and you hear 6,000 people shouting ‘death to the Arabs’, but the
referee doesn’t hear a thing. But when a player says the smallest thing to him
he sends him off straight away.
“The IFA is responsible for this. A
referee like that who doesn’t mention such incidents in his report needs to be
suspended for six months.
“The IFA can pressure the police and the
Knesset, but they don’t want to take on the racists.
“If I came to
Bloomfield and shouted ‘death to the Jews’ the police would break every bone in
my body in three minutes.”
IFA spokesperson Michal Grundland said in
response: “The IFA fights and will continue to fight violence and racism
tirelessly with all the means at its disposal.
“We regret Jimmy Turk's
words which have no connection with the daily reality as the IFA does all it can
to eradicate these ugly incidents from the stadiums.
“We will continue to
demand the involvement of all the relevant bodies to help the IFA to fight
violence and racism in the stadiums which is hurting everyone's
Despite the many racist incidents in the stands, Arab players are
getting more opportunities than ever on the pitch. There are currently more
Arabs than ever in the Premier League, playing in every team apart from
Turk is disappointed that of the dozens of Arabs in the league,
very few dare to speak out against racism.
“There are Arab players who
only care about themselves. They don’t speak out to defend themselves and the
Arab players who will come after them,” he said.
“Take someone like Walid
Badier or Salim Toama. You have never heard them say a word about fighting
racism which makes them also part of the problem.
“Nevertheless, even if
they don’t speak out it doesn’t make it okay for the crowd to curse. When they
curse Arabs they are also insulting me.”
While soccer is often singled
out as the source to racism, Turk believes that the sport actually holds the
solution to this ignominy that blights the local game.
“Nothing in the
world has the power of soccer,” he said. “Some 95 percent of my friends are Jews
and most of them I met through soccer.
“Nothing can connect people like
soccer. It is more than a game.”
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