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Oh, Beitar

by michael November 06 2007
Municipal news

One of the great tragedies of life in modern Jerusalem, besides the violence and the firm and persistent conviction of city officials that Moshe Safdie is a trustworthy architect and urban planner, is that our hometown football team, Beitar Yerushalayim, is frequently an embarrassment. Not an embarrassment on the field (although not exactly a cause for celebration either), but an embarrassment in the stands. A vocal percentage of extreme rightist Beitar fans, notorious throughout Israel, engages at every conceivable opportunity, at every home and away game, in appalling displays of racism, chauvinism, violence and general churlishness. Hooliganism seems to be an unavoidable byproduct of soccer the world over, unfortunately, and Beitar has a terrible case of it.

Beitar fans' humiliating scandals are legion, and the latest occurred a couple days ago when, at a Beitar match, the fans were asked to observe a moment of silence for the 12th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (an assassination carried out by an extreme-rightist). Instead, the fans - according to some sources the majority of the fans - booed throughout the supposedly silent period. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a die-hard Betar fan from childhood, voiced outrage Monday over the widely condemned incident.

"I detest these brutish and violent people who, I'm sorry to say, are a sizable sector of the fans," Olmert said Monday.

"I want to state in the clearest, angriest terms, that this behavior - not of a small group, as some would like to minimize it, but of a large, loud, influential and raging group - was wicked and unbearable," he added.

Gaydamak, who is mulling entry into national politics or running in next year's Jerusalem mayoral race, charged that Olmert and other politicians were using the event for political and personal motives.

The Betar Jerusalem crowd's extremist reaction, which would have been unthinkable just years ago even among the most ultra-nationalist and racist supporters of the soccer team, was the latest sign that incitement to violence, intolerance and hate mongering are on the rise in the country as the government presses forward with peace talks with the Palestinians.

Betar Jerusalem's management issued a statement condemning the behavior.

"We are ashamed and insulted that there are such fans among us. We are sure that the overwhelming majority of our fans will join us in condemning the calls," the statement said.

But the head of Israel's soccer federation acknowledged that a large number of fans booed the mention of Rabin's name.

Jerusalemite is not sure what's more disturbing, the utter lack of human decency displayed by the Beitarniks, or the fact that Ehud Olmert saves his most passionate speeches for rowdy and disrespectful fans at a soccer match.

It's high time we got a soccer team that didn't make Jerusalemites ashamed to be so.

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