Betar’s foes

As many as a few hundred xenophobic Betar Jerusalem soccer fans do not seem to get it.

Betar Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Betar Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
As many as a few hundred xenophobic Betar Jerusalem soccer fans do not seem to get it. Even after this group of sectarian rabble-rousers was publicly lambasted by a wide range of public figures from President Shimon Peres to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, former prime minister Ehud Olmert and Israel Football Association officials; even after they were fined, arrested and distanced from future Betar games till the end of the season by the police and the courts; these hooligans – who by no means represent the majority of Betar fans – continue not only to cling stubbornly to ingrained prejudices, they have no shame acting on these distorted worldviews.
On Friday, dozens threw rocks, accosted a guard and attacked Betar chairman Itzik Kornfein, attempting to force their way into his car. Army Radio reported that some fans spat on the two newly recruited Chechen soccer players, Dzhabrail Kadiyev and Zaur Sadayev.
It is Kadiyev and Sadayev – or more precisely their Muslim faith – that has so incensed some of Betar’s volatile fans.
“Betar pure forever” was the way one Betar fan’s banner put it last week during a game with Bnei Yehuda.
More needs to be done to bring those responsible for the violence to justice. Kornfein called on the state prosecutor, Police commissioner Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino and Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat to do more to maintain law and order.
We second the call.
But while those Betar fans who lashed out violently in the name of sectarian prejudices should be punished, we should also be careful not to lose a sense of proportion.
That’s precisely what Avraham Burg, chairman of Molad-The Center for Renewal of Democracy and German history Prof. Moshe Zimmerman did last week when they compared Betar’s xenophobia to Nazism.
The two made the comparisons during a screening of Theresienstadt League, a documentary using Nazi film footage of a soccer game played in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in September 1944 between the Jewish prisoners and Nazi soldiers.
The game, held within walking distance of a crematorium working at the peak of productivity, was filmed by the Nazis as part of a propaganda film entitled Theresienstadt: A Jewish Community.
The propaganda film’s aim was to allay international suspicion of mass exterminations by portraying the concentration camp as a merry Jewish colony. Within weeks of the film being shot, most of the Jews who played in the soccer game were dead.
Besides soccer, it is difficult to fathom what connection Burg and Zimmerman imagined existed between the behavior of Betar fans and Theresienstadt. The two managed to belittle the memory of the Holocaust and confound understanding of Betar bigotry in one fell swoop.
A more fitting parallel can be drawn with the sometimes violent sectarian rivalry that continues to exist between some European soccer teams such as, for instance, Glasgow’s Protestant Rangers and Catholic Celtics. In the summer of 2011 tensions flared after the Rangers dared to hire Aaron McGregor, a Catholic player.
The best remedy for Betar’s bullying is to hire additional Muslim – and Arab – players while continuing to punish violent protesters. Eventually, Betar fans will either learn to express their bigoted opinions civilly or cease to be loyal to Betar, which would be no big loss.
Betar’s owner, Arkadi Gaydamak, should be praised for his brave decision to hire the two Muslim Chechens and for standing behind his decision. It is imperative that the two players receive full support from the Betar club, fellow players and the majority of Betar fans who are unprejudiced.
Kadiyev and Sadayev must not meet the same fate as Ibrahim Nadala who in 2004 left Betar after enduring verbal harassment by fans for being Muslim.
In the final analysis bigotry is not only ugly, it is selfdefeating.
Imagine the Brooklyn Dodgers without Jackie Robinson? Who knows how many talented Muslim and Arab players could have been recruited but weren’t due to mindless prejudice? They may claim to be fans, but the bigots of Betar are acting more like foes.