Beitar Jerusalem, the unlikely symbol of Israeli-Arab unity

Perhaps now, Beitar can shed its racist image and become a sporting model of Jewish-Muslim teamsmanship.

BEITAR JERUSALEM looks like a whole new team – both on and off the pitch – after a number of personnel changes, from the club’s owner to executives to players, and improved results are bound to follow. (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
BEITAR JERUSALEM looks like a whole new team – both on and off the pitch – after a number of personnel changes, from the club’s owner to executives to players, and improved results are bound to follow.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
We welcome the news that Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, a member of the United Arab Emirates’ royal family, has purchased a 50 percent stake in the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, and congratulate him with the Arabic term, “Mabruk!”
“A historic and exciting day for Beitar Jerusalem,” the capital’s Premier League team tweeted to its followers, noting that the deal had been signed by the Israeli co-owner, Moshe Hogeg, and Sheikh Hamad on Monday – three months after Israel and the UAE established diplomatic ties as part of the US-led Abraham Accords.
Perhaps now, Beitar – which is infamous for its refusal to sign an Arab player and the anti-Arab chants of some of its hardcore fans, known as “La Familia” – can shed its racist image and become a sporting model of Jewish-Muslim teamsmanship.
Beitar’s announcement quoted Sheikh Hamad as saying: “I am thrilled to be a partner in such a glorious club that I have heard so much about and in such a great city, the capital of Israel and one of the holiest cities in the world.”
Pledging to invest NIS 300 million in the team over the next decade, he said this represented “the fruits of peace and brotherhood between the nations” and would “bring people together through sport.”
Saying he would strive to put together the best team possible, he concluded with the fans’ famous chant, “Yalla, Beitar!”
Hogeg said, “On the eve of Hanukkah, Beitar’s menorah is lit in a new and exciting light. Together, we all march the club to new days of coexistence, achievements and brotherhood for the sake of our club, community and Israeli sports.”
Beitar has sought to change its ugly image in recent years and received an award from President Reuven Rivlin in 2017 for its efforts to tackle racism and reduce the number of racist chants at its games. Hogeg, a cryptocurrency entrepreneur, said after buying the team in 2018 that he planned to put it on a “new path.”
The sheikh’s son, Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa, will in effect control the club from the UAE and become a member of its new board of directors. The funds invested by his father will be used, inter alia, to buy some star players.
Foreign ownership of football clubs in England has proved to be enormously successful. A staggering 15 clubs in the English Premier League are owned or part-owned by overseas investors.
Since the West London club, Chelsea, was bought by Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich in 2003, it has won 16 major trophies – the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Europa League twice, the Premier League five times, the FA Cup five times and the League Cup three times.
We can only hope that Beitar, which has been struggling financially and on the field in recent years, can return to its glory days and flourish after being injected with much-needed funding from the UAE. Beitar has won the Israeli Premier League six times, as well as seven Israeli Cups and two Israeli Supercups – in 1976 and 1986.
The club was founded in 1936 by Shmuel Kirschstein and David Horn, who chaired the so-called Beitar branch in Jerusalem, and several players were also members of the banned Irgun and Lehi groups associated with the Revisionist Zionism movement trying to oust the British Mandate.
The club has traditionally worn yellow and black and plays its home matches at Teddy Stadium (named after legendary Jerusalem mayor, Teddy Kollek).
Some fans have protested against the UAE purchase. Others, however, welcomed the move and the promised funding as providing a new start.
We understand that some fans may be upset by a quintessentially Israeli team being sold to a foreign investor, but it is time to put an end to unbridled hatred that shames not only the club but the whole of Israel.
Just as FIFA has effectively conducted a “#Say No To Racism” campaign and Chelsea has successfully promoted its “#Say No To Antisemitism” campaign, so too should the new Beitar launch a new campaign against hatred.
From now on, “Yalla, Beitar!” should be a chant associated with sportsmanship and coexistence – and the team should become a proud mascot of the Abraham Accords.