Nobody was surprised when before the opening of the match against Maccabi Haifa, Beitar Jerusalem fans booed late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin during a pre-game ceremony calling for an end to violence.
With the assistance of wide television, radio, press, and Internet coverage, these fans remind us every week that Israeli society’s backyard was never dirtier. Much has been said and written about the black-and-yellow crowd’s violent and racist behavior. The claim that we’re only talking about a rogue bunch sounds pathetic. Thousands of those attending Beitar’s soccer stadium in Jerusalem aren’t really racist. The chants “Death to the Arabs” and “Death to the Leftists” prove they simply hate everybody.
Those who will investigate the next political murder would be able to identify this latest incident as a constitutive moment. Dozens, hundreds, and even thousands of Beitar fans remind us that the writing on the wall doesn’t always remain on the wall. We must not only condemn them, but also show the door to those who do not have minimal respect for Israeli democracy.
It’s difficult and almost impossible to detach what’s happening at soccer stadiums in particular, and in sports in general, from its wider social-cultural context. Extreme phenomena such as violence and racism did not always start at soccer stadiums, but there is no doubt they raised their head there and almost became institutionalized there en route to many other placed outside the world of sports.
We should not treat the boos heard during the memorial ceremony lightly, just like we shouldn’t underestimate the songs expressing support for the prime minister’s assassin. The manner in which thousands of Beitar Jerusalem fans chose to express their views regarding the Rabin memorial day, as well as the man who was ostracized up until recently and has now become their hero, must be a warning sign for all those who hold Israeli democracy dear.
At the same time, the team’s management, which for years now has been unable or unwilling to restrain those who regularly sabotage the team must stand up this time and do something. Many of the team’s fans stay away from the stadium because of the conduct and violent chants of fans. The Israeli champion deserves a different atmosphere during games.
Whether it is through threats of punishment on the part of Israel’s Soccer Association or out of genuine concern for a successful soccer club, the team must rid itself of the cancer that has been spreading within it. The road from the stadium to the neighborhood and school is very short.
Dr. Yair Galili is a sociologist and concerned soccer fan