The last word: Let's get to the root of the problem

This isn't just another case of soccer hooliganism where a mob at a match follows the rest of the group.

By JEREMY LAST
November 6, 2007 01:46
2 minute read.
The last word: Let's get to the root of the problem

betar fans 88.298. (photo credit: Asaf Kliger [file])

 
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There has been a disappointing predictability in the reaction by media, political and soccer personalities to the booing by Betar Jerusalem fans during a ceremony marking 12 years since the murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin before Sunday night's Premier League game in Haifa. Clearly the incident should be condemned in the strongest terms. However much these fans disagreed with the left-leaning policies and decisions of Rabin they should have shown some respect. But blaming and then punishing the soccer club itself for the actions of a relatively large percentage of its fans is really ignoring the root of the problem. To hear Israel Football Association Chairman Avi Luzon focusing on the "appalling" actions rather than considering working on a solution to the problem is rather troubling. It is all too easy to claim that this is just another example of soccer hooliganism where a mob at a match follows the rest of the group. But the situation in Israeli soccer, and most notably at Betar, is far more complicated than that and contrasts to rivalry and violence in other countries such as England. Whereas in England soccer fans generally become affiliated with a team from their local area, Israeli soccer has deep political connections which cannot be ignored. The fact is that a majority of Betar fans affiliates with the club as it has traditionally represented those with right-wing political views. The team grew from the Betar movement just as the Hapoel teams have traditionally been connected to the left-wing workers movement. While many of the extremist right-wingers who sing songs praising Yigal Amir for murdering Rabin may support Betar, it is not their love of soccer which is the issue. There is a societal problem here which needs to be addressed at its source. Many of those booing Rabin were youngsters who would have been just three or four years old when the former prime minister was killed. Rather than simply speaking out against their actions, those in charge should think about how these young people got to the point where they instinctively know the words to these songs and sing them in unison. The first time I experienced this was traveling on a bus to Sakhnin with Betar fans who suddenly all began singing pro-Yigal Amir songs. It was shocking then and it is shocking now, but it was soon obvious that they had learned the songs somewhere. It is more than likely they picked up their racist and extremist viewpoints at home from their parents as well as from their local environment. If there is to be a change in attitude it is not going to be achieved by the Betar players wearing T-shirts before a game condemning racism and violence. First, the players should stand in front of the crowds at Teddy with a microphone condemning the booing and racist chanting. But more importantly, the authorities need to send social workers into the schools to discuss the youngsters' views with the classes. Without looking at the wider picture, any number of fines and point deductions will be ignored by the young people, who are of course the future of Israel.

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