UAE sheikh buying half of Beitar Jerusalem signals bad news for bigots

MIDDLE ISRAEL: Few things can be more ironic, hopeful and poetically just than Arab investors’ purchase of soccer club Beitar Jerusalem

SUPPORTERS OF Beitar Jerusalem cheer for their team during a soccer match against Maccabi Umm el-Fahm  at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. (photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
SUPPORTERS OF Beitar Jerusalem cheer for their team during a soccer match against Maccabi Umm el-Fahm at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
The starless midnight of racism and war, as Martin Luther King called it, was flooded this week with starlight, courage and hope, as Jewish racism was dealt a blow its followers will never forget.
Jewish racism should have been an oxymoron, but the fact is that the same racism that is every Jew’s trauma and most Jews’ antichrist is also some Jews’ temptation.
Articulated by Meir Kahane, who preached the forceful expulsion of Israel’s Arab population, Jewish racism reached the peak of its public success in 1984, when he became a lawmaker and proposed bills for separating beaches between Jews and non-Jews, banning marriages between Jews and non-Jews and limiting Israeli citizenship to Jews alone.
That episode was soon forgotten, after the Knesset, led in this effort by then-Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir, passed legislation that prevented candidates who incited racism from running in an election. Kahane was consequently forgotten along with his rhetoric, which, in the aftermath of his eviction from the public sphere, politicians have been careful to avoid.
Jewish racism, however, was not forgotten, and remained espoused by thousands. The most visible, vocal and unabashed of them was fabled soccer team Beitar Jerusalem fan club La Familia.
THE FAN club, whose name echoes an appreciation for the Italian Mafia’s values and norms, does some nice things, like giving fans flags, banners and confetti, leading their singing, and fundraising for terror victims. However, some things they did were not nice, like attacking Arab clubs’ fans and chanting at Arab players slogans like “death to the Arabs” and “Muhammad is dead.”
Seven years ago, to the fan club’s astonishment, Beitar bought and fielded two Russian players, which was okay, but their faith was Islam, which was not okay. La Familia responded by torching their club’s trophy room, which displayed exhibits and memorabilia of the club’s success over the decades, crowned by six national championships and seven state cups.
La Familia’s thuggery was effective, so much so that management hired bodyguards to shadow its Muslim duo. After one of them scored a goal hundreds of fans left the stands in protest, much the way Hitler did when he left Berlin’s Olympic Stadium rather than award a gold medal to athletic legend Jesse Owens, who was Black.
Back in Jerusalem, it took but several months for the Muslim pair to vanish, along with those bodyguards, in keeping with the fan club’s appalling motto – “Beitar is forever pure.”
Well this week that quest and the racists behind it sustained a smashing volley into their goal’s top corner when Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, an Emirati businessman, bought a 50% stake in Beitar Jerusalem.
It’s as if Chelsea Clinton would buy Trump Tower.
FOUNDED in 1936, Beitar was nationalist from outset.
Bearing the name of the political movement established by Revisionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the team’s earliest players included one player (Haim Corfu) who 41 years later became a minister in Menachem Begin’s first government, and another (Asher Benziman) who got killed during an Irgun attack on British intelligence headquarters in downtown Jerusalem.
The club was therefore identified with the political Right, just like all Hapoel clubs belonged
to the Histadrut labor federation and were identified with Labor. Likud leaders like Dan Meridor and Ehud Olmert would attend its games, and President Reuven Rivlin was at one point Beitar Jerusalem’s manager.
Like their longtime leader Menachem Begin, those fans were nationalists, but by no means racists. All disciples of Jabotinsky, they were liberals, not bigots.
Such, to be sure, are also most of the club’s fans today. “We are for this deal,” said this week hundreds of them on social media, while rallying around the slogan “the majority is no longer silent.” Such is also Beitar’s owner, 39-year-old businessman Moshe Hogeg, who bought Beitar two years ago while vowing to wage war on racism, calling it “the product of ignorance” and “a disease.”
Realizing La Familia’s racism was a strategic problem for his asset, Hogeg first confronted it by buying Nigerian midfielder Ali Mohamed, son of a Christian mother and Muslim father.
Now the riffraff will have to undergo a brain transplant. “It’s as if my son would tell me he wants to marry a Muslim,” said one of them on Radio 103, as if reading from one of Kahane’s dusted Knesset bills.
Just how things will now develop between such fans and the club they adore remains to be seen. Hopefully, they will revise their views and rewrite their slogans.
For its part, this column today happily revises what it wrote in the past, not about racism, but about soccer (“Reform soccer,” July 14, 2006).
Back then, following a particularly dull World Cup, this writer argued that globalization deprived soccer of the national harmony and patriotic drive that fueled great teams like Italy of 1982, Brazil of 1970, England of 1966 or Hungary of 1954, squads whose players played in their homelands, and therefore knew each other well and played in majestic synchrony.
Now, with money buying and selling players and clubs like stocks and bonds, and with local clubs morphing into foreign legions, national soccer lost its glue, and all of soccer lost its flavor, went my argument.
Well, Beitar Jerusalem’s purchase by an Arab shows this trends’ other side – the dilution of nationalist vanity; the reminder that sports should be about sportsmanship and nationalism should be about harmony, not only between brethren, but also between nations.
Having inked the deal, Sheikh bin Khalifa said: “I am thrilled to be a partner in such a glorious club... in such a great city, the capital of Israel and one of the holiest cities in the world.” We too are thrilled, Sheikh, welcome in our midst.
The writer’s bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.