Racism policed at Betar Jerusalem-Umm al-Fahm match

Despite fears of repeated showing of racism from the Betar stands, the match played out in relatively amiable atmosphere.

Betar Jerusalem fans 370 (photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
Betar Jerusalem fans 370
(photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
Despite a tense build-up and its volatile potential, the State Cup showdown between Betar Jerusalem and Maccabi Umm al-Fahm was played out in a relatively amiable atmosphere at Teddy Stadium on Tuesday night, allowing all involved to breath a huge sigh of relief.
Around 9,000 fans, over 2,000 of them backing Umm al-Fahm, attended the match which Betar had initially planned to play in front of empty stands to avoid a recurrence of Saturday’s racist behavior by supporters.
Betar was summoned to stand trial at the Israel Football Association’s disciplinary court on Tuesday after supporters reacted angrily to owner Arkadi Gaydamak’s announcement that the club is set to sign Muslims Dzhabrail Kadiyev and Zaur Sadayev from the Chechnyan team Terek Grozny; raising banners reading: “Betar [will be] pure forever” and singing anti-Arab chants during the 1-0 Premier League defeat to Bnei Yehuda on Saturday.
Moments after the final whistle to Tuesday’s encounter, the IFA announced that Betar had been fined NIS 50,000 and that the east stand in Teddy will be closed in its next five matches as a punishment for Saturday’s incidents.
The anti-Muslim bigotry was met by wide-scale condemnation in Israel and abroad, with IFA chairman Avi Luzon revealing during a meeting with Betar chairman Itzik Kornfein that FIFA and UEFA are following the happenings at Betar and could demand the club be shut down should the racism in the stands persist.
However, considering the events of recent days, Tuesday’s match went off without a hitch, although Umm al-Fahm fans left Teddy in a miserable mood after their second-division team was thrashed 5-0 by Betar.
With tensions high in anticipation of the match, National Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police deployed several hundred extra police officers in and around the stadium to prevent any violent incidents from breaking out.
Police also said that they will not allow fans to bring in signs bearing racist messages and that a significant part of their deployment is meant to prevent racist chants, not only acts of violence.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court barred the entrance of 50 Betar fans to the match after the club had appealed to forbid them from entering Teddy as they were involved in Saturday’s racist conduct.
Alarmed and angered by increasing incidents of racism, President Shimon Peres sent a sharply worded letter to the IFA prior to last night’s match.
Peres appealed to the IFA and all other relevant authorities to do their utmost to quell all expressions and manifestations of racism inside and outside soccer stadiums.
“I am sure that the entire country is shocked by this phenomenon and will never agree to come to terms with it,” Peres wrote in his letter. Noting that sport today is a universal declaration against racism, Peres emphasized that it was unacceptable for the opposite to take place in Israel.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert also voiced his opinion by publishing a column in Yediot Aharonot on Tuesday stating that he will not attend a Betar match until the club disconnects itself from the “group of racists” who were involved in Saturday’s incident.
A life-long Betar fan, Olmert said that he is fed up of being identified with racists who have no connection to what he believes Betar should symbolize in Israeli sports and society.
Greer Fay Cashman and Ben Hartman contributed to this report.