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  • Emirati investor acquires half of Israeli soccer club known for anti-Arab fan base : islam

     Deborah updated 1 year, 9 months ago 1 Member · 1 Post
  • Deborah

    December 9, 2020 at 5:55 am


    TEL AVIV — An Abu Dhabi businessman and member of the Emirati royal family has become a 50 percent owner of an Israeli professional soccer club known for its anti-Arab fan base and reluctance to field Muslim players, an early example of the new kind of investment driven by thawing relations between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors.

    The roughly $92 million sale will be invested in the club over the next 10 years and is one of an increasing number of business deals and high-profile events cementing the normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced three months ago.

    “We see before our eyes the phenomenal results of the fruits of peace and brotherhood among the people and we are mapping a new path toward bringing the hearts of people together through sports … Go Beitar!” said Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Monday with Beitar Jerusalem owner Moshe Hogeg in a statement posted on the club website.

    A photo of the deal signing in Dubai showed the two decked out in the team’s signature black and yellow checkered scarves, together with Sheikh Hamad’s son, Mohammed, who will act as his family’s representative and is expected to arrive to the country for a visit in the coming weeks.

    “On the eve of Hanukkah, the Beitar lamp is lit in a new and especially exciting light,” said Hogeg. “Together, we all march the club to new days of coexistence, achievement and brotherhood for the sake of our club and community and for Israeli sports.”

    The deal was described as nothing less than an “earthquake” in the Israeli sports press, but spurred immediate criticism from many Arab-Israelis, who in addition to seeing Israel-UAE normalization as a missed opportunity for resolving the Palestinian issue, are skeptical that a team known for its hostility to Arabs will foster Jewish-Arab coexistence.

    Beitar Jerusalem was founded in the 1930s by right-wing Zionists, appealing mostly to working-class Jewish immigrants from across North Africa and the Middle East. Over the past decade and a half, the club’s hardcore, ultranationalist “La Familia” fan group has grown in numbers and influence. From their designated spot on the eastern stands of Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium, they regularly shout chants that include “pure Beitar,” “death to the Arabs,” and “Muhammad is a homosexual.”

    Israeli sports have become increasingly politicized as the country has drifted to the right in the past decade and a half, according to Zouheir Bahloul, an Arab-Israeli sports journalist and former Knesset member, who resigned in protest of a 2018 law that downgraded the status of Arab citizens in Israel.

    “The fact that an Arab has bought half of Beitar Jerusalem lets the group off from its problem of racism against Arabs,” he said.

    Beitar supporters, too, have reacted with distress.

    “There’s no disputing that this is a huge and enticing deal with a lot of money,” tweeted Dudu Aouate, a retired Beitar Jerusalem goalkeeper. “At the same time, it needs to be taken into account that this is an 84-year-old club with a history and fans who fought for its social makeup over the course of so many years and who preserved its ‘Jewish’ identity more than any other adjective.”

    “Money money money. You’re no longer the authentic Beitar Jerusalem,” said Shmuel Yosef in a tweet. “It’s a sad day for the people for whom Beitar was a soccer team with Jewish character and pride.”

    The Israeli sports site One reported that Hogeg, whose team has had a history of financial problems, has been on several recent trips to the UAE with hopes of signing a partnership deal with an Emirati investor, though “certain elements in Israeli soccer managed to sabotage negotiations after shaming Beitar, saying that it was a racist group.”

    Over the years, Beitar fans have been mostly undeterred by fines and even emboldened by what critics say has been a policy by both sports and government officials to ignore their behavior.

    One of the most blatant incidents occurred in 2018, when Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev posted a video praising good sportsmanship from the gallery of a Beitar game, smiling as La Familia members chanted, “we’ll burn down your village!” against a team hailing from the Arab-Israeli town of Sakhnin.

    Historically, the radical group’s tactics have been successful at intimidating potential players.

    In 2004, a Nigerian Muslim recruit was harassed so incessantly that he quit in less than a year. A year later, La Familia protested over reports that Beitar might sign the Arab-Israeli player Abbas Suan. When one of two Muslim players from Chechnya scored a goal for Beitar in 2013, hundreds of Beitar fans left the stadium in protest.

    After news of the Emirati deal began circulating last week, some 100 La Familia members disrupted the club’s Friday training, shouting curses at the players and at the team’s owner, demanding that the deal be halted.

    As the tensions mount at home, however, even skeptics like Bahloul, the sports journalist, has a small glimmer of hope that the shared partnership could bring the team “back to sanity.”

    “We’re talking about business, basically, but if Hogeg is painting this as part of a war against racism, then fine,” he said. “I tend to believe in that, a little bit.”

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