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Jerusalemite Opinion: Two wrongs don't make a right

by Frankie April 21 2008


Betar Jerusalem Fans


Betar Jerusalem clinched its second straight Israeli Premier League football (soccer) championship this week and as expected and has become accustomed in recent years, the fans stormed the pitch before its game at Teddy Stadium against Herzliya was officially over. Betar was winning 1-0 at the time. The stunt, a common one in Israeli football, which has been done countless times before by fans from all the major teams, was expected, even though the club and police had hoped to prevent it. In the end, the referee was unable to clear the field to play the last minutes and filed his report with the Israeli Football Association accordingly.


On Thursday the IFA’s judicial committee ruled on Betar’s punishment: A technical loss in that game, removal of 2 points from the team’s results and playing the rest of the season’s home games without fans. Accordingly, Betar is now not the champion yet and will need to win a game or two combined to re-clinch the title.


The ruling managed to irk the vast majority of football fans. Aside from Betar fans, supporters of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Maccabi Petah Tikva and Hapoel Kfar Saba are also angry since Herzliya now leapfrogs them all in moving from 10th place to sixth for a “victory�? in which it failed to score any goals. Likewise the two teams fighting relegation, Ashdod and Bnei Yehuda, see their hopes of staying alive dampened as Herzliya pulls away with three unearned points.


You surely won’t hear me saying that Betar fans should go unpunished for storming the pitch, but shouldn’t the punishment fit the crime? And shouldn’t those who are supposed to keep the order look in the mirror as well?


Betar fans have earned their reputation as a rowdy bunch over the years. The history of it boils down to a feeling of discrimination from Sephardic Jerusalemites in the 1960s and ‘70s. The same feelings that Menachem Begin championed to become Prime Minister in 1977 and that the Black Panthers voiced angrily earlier on, football fans brought to Betar games. It was all in good spirit with the times, but slowly got out of hand by the 1990s, when the next generation of fans went to the games just to create “balagan�? rather than support the team they felt was representing their town and culture against the clubs with bigger money from Tel Aviv. Over time, this behavior has caused a split among Betar fans between the balagan camp that sits in the East Stand and the rest in the West.


This punishment only strengthens the feeling of discrimination that many Betar fans already felt, since nothing like it was ever handed to Maccabi Haifa or Maccabi Tel Aviv in the past when their fans did the same. Moreover, it does nothing to solve the problem. Anyone who thinks that in the same situation next season, the same fans wouldn’t try this stunt again because of what the IFA might do to Betar truly doesn’t see the whole picture. The fans that cause the trouble are only looking for the balagan. And coming down hard on the team gives them more reason to do this again.


Crowd violence in sports has been a problem overseas as well. In England, the crackdown came from the government and the solution was to go after the fans who commit the offenses. That means using video cameras and undercover officers at games to find those who are inciting and to go after them. And ultimately, that is the only way to stop this in the future. Betar fans, players and owner Arcadi Gaydamak shouldn’t have to suffer for a few hundred idiots. And let’s be honest, if those same fools stormed the stage when the Israeli philharmonic was playing, would anyone condone going after the musicians for failing to control the theatergoers?

Beitar Jerusalem fans cheer for their team during a match in February. Football fans celebrating what they thought was a cup final victory just minutes before the final whistle, have cost Israeli team Beitar Jerusalem their winning trophy. (AFP/File/Menahem Kahana)


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