Monday, February 11, 2013

Muslims of Beitar Jerusalem

Beitar Jerusalem is the soccer team of the Israeli right.  When I was in Israel several years ago, I would hear of large numbers of fans chanting during games for the release from prison of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassin Yigal Amir, whose far-right views sadly have a following at the uncomfortably large extreme of Israeli nationalist opinion.  Many of its fans support the team because it has never had an Arab players.

Recently, however, the team signed two Muslims from Chechnya.  Some of the teams more hooliganish supporters actually rioted, burning down team headquarters and destroying memorabilia.  However, in a sign that gives hope that Israel's most extreme voices can be shouted down with regards to its internal society, anti-racist fans and the team made a stand:
Chechen Muslim player Gabriel Kadiev was given a standing ovation when he made his debut for Israeli club Beitar Jerusalem on Sunday despite fears he would be targeted by racist fans...
Supportive banners with slogans including: "Violence and racism? Not on our field" were also in evidence.
And Beitar fan Yair Sina, 49, told the Associated Press: "I came today to show that not all Beitar fans are punks and racists. I won't let them take away my love for the team..."
The virulent racism led Israeli president Binyamin Netanyahu, a Beitar supporter, to issue a call for change.
"Lately, we have seen displays of extremism that we find unacceptable," he said. "These must be uprooted from the public sphere and, of course, from the world of sports." 
It's a small thing in regional context, but with the current state of the Arab-Israeli conflict, I take my good news where I can get it.



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