A Middle East Update: Racism in Israeli Football
by Avraham Oz
distributed by email on
6 April 2005
Following some of my updates, some friends send me messages reminding
me the worrying phenomena of growing anti-semitism in today's world.
It is worrying indeed, even beyond the erroneous identification made
between anti-Israeli policies, or even anti-Zionism, and
anti-Semitism. Imagine a crowd somewhere in a European football
stadium, shouting anti-semitic slogans, waving flags of hatred, and
cursing a Jewish player, or an Israeli team. Imagine the waves of
protest, from Jewish circles over the world and official protest from
Well, in my country, in my town, last night, such scenes of hatred
were seen big time: scenes which would not have put to shame the most
radical assemblies of Neo-Nazis and other racist groups. Except that
the targeted group was not Jewish, but Arab. The fans of Israeli
football club Betar Jerusalem are known for their lively conduct
during games and around them. Scenes of violence frequently occur when
they have grievances against the score of their team every day of the
year. now imagine what happens when a league game against one of the
two Arab clubs – Sakhnin and Nazareth – in the Israeli Premier League
Last week the national team had two important games here in Israel
against two of its international rivals at group 4 of the world cup
2006 qualifying games: Ireland and France. Both teams were considered
to have advantage over the Israeli team, and the two draws were
considered a fair achievement for the Israeli team. The goal which
brought the Israeli team the draw against Ireland was scored by Arab
Sakhnin player Abbas Suan; against France, the other Israeli Arab
player in the national team, Walid Badir, headed a late equaliser to
grab a point just seven minutes from time and got Israel the coveted
Last night, in Tel Aviv, in the same stadium where those two
international games last week took place, at the scheduled league
meeting between Betar Jerusalem and Suan's club, Sakhnin, Suan was
supposed to be received by everyone as the star of the national team.
The organizers, from the hosting Betar club, wasted no effort in
trying to impose a sporting nature on the charged clash, with the
announcer congratulating, "in the name of the tens of thousands of
Betar supporters," Israeli international Abbas Suan for his equalizer
against Ireland slightly more than a week ago. "Welcome him,"
enthused the announcer, but the applause was drowned out by a huge
chorus of boos from the Betar stands. Suan may be a national team
star; but in Jerusalem, he is just another Arab soccer player. The
score this season between the two clubs, both currently struggling at
the bottom of the league, is in favour of the Arab team. It's bad
enough for a Jewish club to beat the most patriotic team that
represents the eternal capital of the state; but for an Arab club to
do so twice in a single season is just too much. At least 400 among
the 5000 Betar supporters were shouting: "Let the town of Sakhnin be
burnt down," "We hate all Arabs," and worse; to the cameras of the
various Israeli TV channels, Betar fans shouted: "we'd rather lose
0:10 to Ireland rather than have an Arab score a goal in our name! He
doesn't represent us!"
Some apologetics were sounded in talk shows this morning. We are
asked to understand football hooliganism is a known phenomena. 400,
said one Betar supporter on TV this morning, are less than 10 percent.
I am not sure such arguments would have satisfied Jewish protests
against anti-semitic riots elsewhere. Yet just as we are asked to
regard anti-semitism as a unique form of racism, so we should pay
attention to growing Israeli xenophobia and particularly to
Arab-hatred against the Jewish population. It becomes a growing
phenomenon not to be underestimated. Violence grows among youth;
people are stabbed to death during daily raws over a parking space or
the behaviour of neighbour's dogs. Yesterday a teenager who came to
Israel from France two years ago was hospitalized after being battered
by her classmates, boys and girls, following a raw over a cellphone.
She told TV interviewer she was considering going back to France:
"there is prominent anti-semitism growing there," she said, "But at
least I wasn't battered like this."
The sport portfolio in the Israeli government is placed in the hands
of famous Mini-Stress of Education and Culture Limor Livnat, who has
recently ordered the "legacy of [assassinated Israeli Minister of
Tourism] Rehav'am Zeevi," who founded his radical nationalistic party
on a platform of "transfer" (in plain terms "ethnic cleansing") of the
Arab population of Israel, to be part of the official school
curriculum. Stand-up comedians on stage and TV in Israel are still
ridiculing her enthusiastic jump -to the point of harassment – all
over Israeli sportsmen who gained medals for Israel in the recent
Athens Olympic games. What, would you think, did she have to say about
last night's riots against Arabs? You have guessed right. Nothing.
She, like all her other fellow Ministers, suddenly lost their voice.
Small wonder: they must save it for crying their protest against the
next anti-semitic incident somewhere in the world. In the meantime
they are engaged in other activities, one of which you may read about
in Haaretz report below.
For better days,
Department of Hebrew and Comparative Literature
University of Haifa
2105 Eshkol Tower
Oz also distributed a Haaretz article with this email, and that can be found here.