Ministers cite ‘deep disease’ in Israeli society following Tel Aviv soccer riot

"Sports in general and specifically soccer stadiums became battlegrounds in recent years."

Israel's national soccer team at practice (photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
Israel's national soccer team at practice
(photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
A riot at Monday night’s Hapoel Tel Aviv-Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer game brought the issue of sports violence to the fore on Tuesday, with ministers, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and MKs calling the incident a red card for Israeli society.
A day after 12 fans were arrested at the game, which was stopped after a fan ran onto the pitch and attacked Maccabi midfielder Eran Zahavi, another seven fans – including the 18-year-old son of MK Dov Henin (Hadash) – were arrested outside the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court.
“Israeli sports broke a record in bullying, in vulgarity and in audacity of the most inferior kind,” Edelstein said during a Knesset address. “If this is what happens on the playing field, what will happen in real life? What does this say about our ability to discuss and debate topics about which we are passionate?” Edelstein called the incident a symptom of a deterioration in Israelis’ ability to communicate with one another respectfully.
“This kind of violence is not a game. It is a red card for Israeli society. It is a mark of shame for the entire State of Israel,” he said, calling for MKs not to give up and to continue working on the issue with determination.
Of the 12 fans arrested at the game, five were ordered kept in custody until Thursday and two until Wednesday, while four were banned from soccer games for the rest of the year. One fan received a 60-day ban.
During the brawl on Tuesday that took place after the remand hearing, police arrested seven fans – four from Hapoel, three from Maccabi.
Police said they expect to make more arrests.
Henin said in a statement that he was aware of the arrest and was concerned for the well-being of his son.
“As a soccer fan for many years, tolerance on the soccer field is important to me.
I reject all violence in Israeli sports and hope that we will succeed together as a society to clean up the violence in soccer.”
On Monday night, the derby between Maccabi and Hapoel at Bloomfield Stadium was stopped halfway through after it descended into chaos, which began when a Hapoel fan ran onto the pitch and attacked Zahavi. Those arrested included Elroi Yadai, 35, the fan who attacked Zahavi.
The judge on Tuesday ordered Yadai kept in custody for two days because he poses a threat to the public and because of the seriousness of the allegations against him.
Immediately following the game, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat called the events “serious and shameful.
“It is unfortunate that some people turn the grass [of the soccer pitch] into a battlefield and harm the values of sports and soccer in Israel,” she wrote on Facebook.
Livnat supported the decision to stop the game and said she expects the police to investigate the incident.
She plans to amend the existing law against violence at athletic events so that anyone who runs onto the field during a game will spend three years in prison and be permanently barred from attending games.
Violence on the soccer pitch reflects violence in society, which must be dealt with, Education Minister Shai Piron said on Tuesday.
“We must stop for a moment and understand that there is a deep-seated disease. If we only talk about violence on the soccer pitch, we will miss the profound problem that has existed for a long time. There is violence on the soccer field, but also on many other fields,” Piron said at a conference organized by the Israel Democracy Institute in the capital.
Israeli society is “apparently sick and sick people need care. This treatment will be deep, go to the roots and hurt, and I suggest we don’t run away from the necessary discussion,” Piron said.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni addressed a joint session of the Knesset’s Education, Culture and Sport Committee and its Interior Committee on violence in sport on Tuesday, saying that all areas in which she has authority will prosecute the rioters to the full extent of the law.
“I will take care of this immediately to relay the message that this is a serious, criminal incident,” she said.
Earlier, Livni expressed alarm on Facebook, writing that “violence is penetrating our squares, our sports and, in the end, our social media networks and our children’s lives.”
Livni wrote that education, law enforcement and punishment were the tools needed to confront the phenomenon.
“We will add other tools if need be and become more strict – because racism, violence and hate truly threaten us from within as a society and a country, no less so than the terrorism that threatens us from outside,” she warned.
At the same meeting, MK Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid) called for resources to be invested to educate against violence in sports.
On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation will vote on a bill Razbozov proposed to double the punishment for violence if it takes place outside or during a sporting event. Livni said she would support the legislation.
But, the Yesh Atid lawmaker posited, removing violent fans from stadiums is not enough.
“If we pass this law, we will send a message to the judiciary that the legislature sees violence in sports as a serious problem. The whole country is talking about this incident, it can’t be compared to street violence,” Razbozov said.
A similar bill by MK Gila Gamliel (Likud) also will come up at next week’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation session and would set a 10-year prison sentence for sports-related violence.
“The events at the Tel Aviv derby crossed every line of acceptability in a civilized society,” Gamliel said.
“Unfortunately, we cannot say the writing was not on the wall. Sports in general and specifically soccer stadiums became battlegrounds in recent years.”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.