PM slams 'disgraceful' arson attack on Betar HQ

Incident seemingly connected to soccer club's battle against violence, racism after fans protest signing of 2 Muslim players.

Betar Jerusalem fans 370 (photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
Betar Jerusalem fans 370
(photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
Arsonists caused heavy damage to Betar Jerusalem’s management offices on Friday in what police are calling an attack by a small group of racist fans motivated by the soccer team’s decision to sign two Muslim players.
Two firefighting crews responded to flames engulfing the offices at the team’s practice facility in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood early on Friday morning. Jerusalem Fire and Rescue spokesman Asaf Abras said the fire, which was immediately identified as arson, wreaked havoc on the office rooms, covering the inside with soot and smoke.
The fire also destroyed Betar memorabilia.
The club has struggled for two weeks with violent fans who oppose the signing of two Muslim Chechen players.
During the January 26 home game against Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv, fans raised an enormous banner that read, “Betar pure forever” and sang anti-Arab chants.
Police have arrested more than 20 people in connection with violence and with incitement against Muslims. On February 1, police arrested three fans after they showed up outside of the team’s practice, threw rocks at players’ cars and attacked a security guard.
On Thursday, the Jerusalem district attorney indicted four fans for their role in the “Betar is pure forever” sign.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu slammed the arson attack. “Such behavior is shameful,” he said on Friday.
“We cannot countenance such racism. The Jewish people, who suffered from boycotts and ostracism, must be a light unto the nations.”
Upon seeing the damage, Betar chairman Itzik Kornfein said the attack was “awful.”
“I have no doubt that the police will reach the culprits and put them behind bars.
Betar will continue to fight racism and violence without fear,” he said, adding that the arson would not deter the team.
Betar Jerusalem responded furiously to the incident, saying the arson “crosses a red line when it comes to the issues of violence and racism that we are dealing with,” the Sport 5 website reported.
“The people who perpetrated this despicable act caused indescribable damage to memorabilia connected to Betar’s history.”
On Sunday, Betar plays host to Bnei Sakhnin, a team from the Arab town of Sakhnin in the Galilee.
Mayor Muslim Khuchiyev from Grozny, the capital of the the Chechen Republic, Russia, as well as a representative from the Chechen parliament will attend the game to support the two new Chechen players.
The players at the center of the controversy, defender Dzhabrail Kadiyev and striker Zaur Sadayev, were signed to Betar from the Chechen team Terek Grozny of the Russian Premier League.
Kadiyev may play in Sunday’s game, though Sadayev is injured, according to Betar spokesman Asaf Shaked.
Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said Teddy Stadium will be open to fans, hand have a “markedly increased” police presence with hundreds of police officers and undercover detectives both inside and outside the stadium.
“Police will conduct exhaustive searches at the entrance to the stadium to ensure that no one enters with signs that are racist or incite racism,” Ben-Ruby said.
The East Stand of Teddy Stadium, where the hardcore fan base sits, including the La Familia fan group, will be closed on Sunday. The Israel Football Association closed the East Stand for five matches to punish the team for the January 26 incident.
Fans from Bnei Sakhnin will park at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo and will arrive at Teddy Stadium in organized shuttles with police escort.
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat announced on Friday that she intends to attend Sunday’s game in order to send a message of support to Betar’s management in their fight against racism.
“This [the arson] is the most despicable act and a dangerous display of criminal violence,” Livnat said. “The law enforcement and courts must send a strong message that soccer fields and sports are not outside of the law.”
Also on Sunday, anti-racism coalition Bright Tag plans to hold a demonstration outside of Teddy Stadium during the start of the game to protest against racism among Betar fans. Betar fans are known in Israel as one of the most racist fan bases, and team fight songs such as “Muhammed is dead” are regularly chanted during games.
Jerusalem Post staff and Allon Sinai contributed to this report. •