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Beitar Jerusalem and racism in Israeli football

A section of the Beitar Jerusalem support are known said to be racist during and outside of matches, and the club itself is accused of adopting a racist transfer policy, with both FIFA and the Israeli government failing to effectively intervene.

In March 2013, Zaur Sadayev became the first Muslim player to score for Israeli side Beitar Jerusalem. What followed in the stadium laid bare the racism festering deep within a core segment of the fan base at the club, with a mass-walkout instigated by the infamous ‘La Familia’.

Sadayev’s strike put Beitar one goal to the good against Netanya, with members of Beitar’s extremist supporters group leaving en mass, booing and chanting racist songs.

Some of these songs translate as: “Here we are, the most racist football team in the country”, and “Death to Arabs” – both of which heard at most Beitar matches, and is still sung to the rafters by the group today.

Then-vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon condemned the show of racism after the game.

“I was shocked by the racism displayed in the Beitar Jerusalem stands yesterday against having Muslim or Arab players on the team.”

The actions of La Familia have led to numerous bans, sanctions and points deductions for their club – but the group still exist. According to newspaper Haaretz, it is the lack of effective anti-racism measures from the government that remains the issue, with their apparent outrage concerning incidents not backed up by national policies.

“(Prime Minister) Netanyahu and (culture and sports minister) Regev are preaching to others what they themselves do not practice,” an editorial from Haaretz in 2014 says.

“With their racist remarks (‘The Arabs are flocking to the polling stations’), their conduct (threatening the funding of Arab cultural institutions) and their antidemocratic legislation – which is so typical of the government they head – they legitimize the phenomenon called Beitar Jerusalem.”

Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestine Football Association, highlighted football’s world governing body FIFA’s failure to properly address the situation.

“While Israel continues to participate in Fifa matches internationally with impunity, Palestinian football players have been shot and arrested, our football association raided by Israeli army forces, our clubs more often than not forbidden from bringing players, coaches or even materials from abroad, just as the restriction of movement imposed on our players and technical staff, within, from and to Palestine have turned the game into a real act of resistance.”

Beitar are a symbol of right-wing Israel, having been established in 1936 as part of a nationalist Israeli movement – with the club’s signing of non-Jews, even on loan, prompting a vicious backlash and revolt from the hard-core support.

While Zaur Sadayev is just one of the five Muslim players ever to play for the club – the goalscorer lasting just a year amid torrential abuse – Beitar remain the only club to refuse to hire a Palestinian, despite repeat sanctions and fines from the IFA (Israeli Football Association).

Haaretz see Beitar as a vehicle for the manifestation of discrimination, rightly concluding that, “There is no value to a sport that is supposed to give people equal opportunities and treatment without reference to religion, race or gender, when it becomes a focus for discrimination and racism.”

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