The Last Word: Soccer violence in Israel

Sure, there have been incidences of cars being smashed or small fights, but nothing on the level of PSG, West Ham or Millwall.

sports flares 88 (photo credit: )
sports flares 88
(photo credit: )
Some months ago, around the start of the Israeli soccer season, a few skirmishes broke out at matches around the country, somehow causing widespread concern amongst the viewing and reading public. The first came during the closing stages of Hapoel Tel Aviv's last-minute defeat at the hands of Betar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium. A number of Hapoel fans, clearly frustrated at seeing their team throw away a 1-0 lead against their archrival in the last few minutes, appeared to get a little uppity and shouted all manner of rude words as well as making some less-than-family-orientated gestures. The police swiftly got involved, going in rather heavy-handedly, and ejected a number of Tel Aviv supporters. Instead of images of fans acting violently, what was seen in the video footage of the event was that the policemen were acting baton-happy, beating many supporters into submission. The images of the apparently violent soccer supporters being controlled by the police were shown on news and sports programs throughout that week, prompting numerous discussions not over the over-eager tactics of the police, but of the so-called violence at soccer matches. This trend continued in the following weeks, when fans of both Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Tel Aviv were publicly controlled by the authorities in a manner which did not seem entirely proportionate (for want of better word). Despite the overriding influence of the police on proceedings, a special committee was set up by politicians to address the issue, which came up with all sorts of conclusions about how to deal with the increasing dangers in the soccer stadiums. In a laughable discussion on television that week, footage of rioting English soccer supporters were shown followed by a discussion of how to deal with Israeli fans. The two were miles apart. They may get a little rowdy but it is extremely unlikely that any of these Israel supporters would act in the overly violent manner of their English counterparts. An incident occurred a week and a half ago which more than likely put these discussions into perspective. Anyone who saw footage of the Paris Saint-Germain supporters rioting following their team's defeat in France to Hapoel Tel Aviv, would realize that Israeli authorities should thank their lucky stars. There is no film of the incident in which a black policeman was prompted to shoot dead a member of a crazed group of PSG fans, but reports of what happened, describing how the Parisians were shouting anti-Semitic and racist slogans and were closing in on the policeman and a group of Hapoel fans, were chilling to say the least. It was nothing like the much, much lower levels of violence in this country. The fact is that the majority of supporters who make up groups such as Betar' Jerusalem's La Familia or Maccabi Tel Aviv's Ultras 96 are just youngsters with over-inflated aspirations. Sure, there have been incidences of cars being smashed or small fights, but nothing on the level of PSG, West Ham or Millwall. Last season, I traveled up to Bnei Sakhnin with the hardcore Betar Jerusalem supporters. Many of these fans appeared to be no older than 15 or 16 years old. They talked a good talk, about how they want to go to England to fight with the supporters of West Ham or Millwall. But when given the opportunity, they made no attempt to fight the Sakhnin fans and we all knew it was all talk. Of course there is a small problem of violence at soccer matches in this country, but anyone who compares it to the organized violence and racism on the terraces in Europe needs to take a closer look.