Beitar: A murky future

While on the face of it Beitar’s first home match of the season may seem an ideal opportunity to get its season off to a promising start, in many ways, Monday’s result is hardly of any significance.

Jerusalem supporters from the La Familia fan group hold up a match against Charleroi in Belgium (photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Jerusalem supporters from the La Familia fan group hold up a match against Charleroi in Belgium
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
The atmosphere is bound to be perfect.
Around 30,000 fans are expected to fill Teddy Stadium for Beitar Jerusalem’s first match of the Premier League campaign against arch-rival Hapoel Tel Aviv on Monday night, creating a stage every player dreams to play on as a child.
However, while on the face of it Beitar’s first home match of the season looks to be an ideal opportunity to get its season off to a promising start, in many ways, Monday’s result is hardly of any significance.
Such is Beitar’s current situation, that even a resounding win against the enemy from Tel Aviv will only be a brief respite from the troubles that are threatening to drown the club.
Beitar fans can hardly remember when their team last started a season without its future being up in the air.
All that seems to change from year to year is the names of those affected. Eli Tabib has replaced Arkadi Gaydamak as owner, Miri Regev is the new culture and sport minister after Limor Livnat retired from politics, not to mention the numerous coaches and players who have come and gone over recent seasons.
The abysmal conduct of Beitar fans is once more responsible for the question marks hanging over the club.
Beitar was thrashed 5-1 by Charleroi in Belgium in the first leg of the Europa League second qualifying round last month – a match that was held up at the start when Jerusalem supporters from the La Familia fan group threw dozens of incendiary devices onto the pitch, enveloping it in smoke. As if that wasn’t bad enough, in second-half stoppage time, Charleroi goalkeeper Nicolas Penneteau was hit by a hard object thrown from the crowd, which forced another delay.
Their actions drew condemnation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and resulted in owner Eli Tabib putting the club up for sale.
Tabib said he felt ashamed of the supporters, while Netanyahu claimed that the national image was at stake and ordered legal action against the Beitar fans.
“We will not allow them to besmirch the club’s entire fan base or harm the country’s image,” Netanyahu said.
Beitar was at least let off lightly by UEFA’s Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body, which fined the club €95,000 while also ordering the partial closure of the team’s stadium during its next UEFA competition match. Beitar was charged with racist behavior (banners and chants), improper conduct of supporters (breaking down fences), setting off and throwing of fireworks and objects and an illicit banner.
“I am ashamed... I have decided to end my involvement with Israeli soccer and am returning to the United States... I will appoint a trustee to run the club until somebody is willing to buy it,” Tabib noted in a statement.
It wasn’t the first time Tabib vowed to sell the club, and it still remains to be seen if it he actually plans to do so this time.
In the meantime, Tabib has sold players to help cover his investment, receiving €1.8 million from Maccabi Tel Aviv last week for arguably the team’s two best players, Eli Dasa and Shlomi Azulay.
“It is important to emphasize that they both wanted to leave in order to progress both professionally and financially,” a Beitar press release read. “Due to the financial damages, estimated at millions of shekels, caused to the club by some of the fans last season and in the Europa League qualifiers, the sale of the players was inevitable after all the burden fell on the shoulders of Eli Tabib.”
Tabib has grown fed up with the conduct of La Familia, which has gotten the club in trouble time and again over the past decade.
It was just two years ago that part of the club’s training complex at Bayit Vegan was burned down in protest against the signings of Dzhabrail Kadiyev and Zaur Sadayev, two Muslim players from Chechnya. La Familia staunchly opposes the signing of Muslim players and Beitar remains the only topflight club in Israel yet to field an Israeli-Arab.
Just a year earlier in March 2012, several dozen La Familia members were involved in a skirmish with Arab workers at Malha Mall right across from Teddy Stadium, chanting “Death to Arabs!” and “Muhammad is dead!” before police and mall security guards restored the peace.
While Tabib has blamed the fans for his decision to leave, he is in danger of being forced out by the Israel Football Association after being sentenced earlier this year to six months of community service by the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court.
Tabib was convicted last June of assaulting a minor and of disruption of justice, being found guilty of attacking a Hapoel Tel Aviv fan with his bodyguard outside his home in March 2012 and erasing the footage of the incident from his computer after it was captured by his security cameras.
He appealed the conviction and the sentence, and with the process expected to drag out for years, it seems unlikely the IFA will make any final decision in the near future.
Just two days before he was sentenced by the Magistrate’s Court, Tabib was shot and lightly wounded outside his home in Kfar Shmaryahu. Tel Aviv police said he had just pulled up at his house and was sitting in his car when a gunman stepped off a motorcycle, walked up and fired three shots at him, with one bullet hitting Tabib in the hand. He was taken to the hospital with light wounds to his hand and was released hours later.
The ongoing investigation of the three suspects arrested in connection with the attempted murder has revealed that the incident was linked to Israeli organized crime and that Tabib was being extorted.
Tabib is clearly a far-from-ideal owner, but in its current state Beitar could hardly do any better.
No one has shown any real interest in purchasing the club since Tabib’s latest announcement and it seems as though Beitar could well be left in limbo for a while.
Despite its undermanned squad, Monday’s match against Hapoel Tel Aviv is set to show the club’s great promise and potential, especially off the field. However, it will also display how far Beitar has fallen, providing an ominous reminder that the club’s sheer existence is still far from a given