By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Last Sunday evening my wife and I went to Teddy Stadium, the main sports arena in Jerusalem, not to play soccer or even watch the game, but to demonstrate. The reason was the outrageous racism of some fans of the local soccer team Betar. A significant number of its supporters are said to have a long history of it.
This has escalated of late when the team’s owner, Arkadi Gaidamak, the Russian-born Israeli oligarch, acquired two Chechnan players who’re Muslim. A small number of Betar fans hit the roof, called for the Jewish “purity” of the team and are suspected of having burnt down the club house a couple of days ago.
Last night was the debut of the two Chechnan players. The game was against Bn’ey Sachnin from an Arab, predominantly Muslim, town inIsrael. There have been ugly scenes between fans of the two teams before. Because of the addition of the Chechnan players, this game was a potential tinderbox. Hundreds of security guards and police officers were said to be there, many of them undercover.
The demonstration, scheduled for a couple of hours before the start of the game, was held some distance away from the entrances to the arena. It was sponsored by an umbrella organization, Tag Meir (“bright tag”), supported by the New Israel Fund. It came into existence to counteract Tag Mechir (“price tag”), the group of Jewish settler terrorists and their supporters who’re defacing and damaging Arab property, including mosques, in alleged retaliation for the dismantling of illegal settlements.
Tag Meir (the good guys) has as its aim to fight racism inIsrael. The time and place of the demonstration was, therefore, most appropriate. Unfortunately, very few people turned up. Perhaps it was out of fear of the thugs, perhaps it was because of the usual propensity of liberals to confine their outrage to mutterings at the breakfast table when they read or listen to the daily news.
But a number of prominent Israelis came, among them an Arab sports broadcaster, also Avrum Burg (the former Knesset speaker who had also headed the Jewish Agency) and the former Jerusalem chief of police turned newly minted Member of Knesset, Mickey Levy. They all said important things and I assume their words were duly reported by the media, though I didn’t see anything about it in my morning paper.
All who spoke stressed that it’s only a small minority of soccer fans who’re racists. Of course, the phenomenon isn’t confined to Israel: Britain, for example, has suffered from racist soccer hooliganism for years. But that it should also exist among Jews, the quintessential victims of racism, is scandalous.
The founders of the Jewish state wanted it to be like all other states. Israel has, indeed, become that. Now most other states tend to blame Israelfor imitating them. Though much is made here of that hypocrisy, many Israelis also know that if they want to live in an authentic Jewish state, they must purge themselves of some of the ugly features that may exist elsewhere. Racism is one of them.
I don’t know if our demonstration made a difference, but it made me feel a little better to be among Jews who want Israel to try to live up to Jewish values.
P.S. Though B’ney Sachnin led 2:0 at halftime, the game finished two all which probably calmed some Beitar hotheads. However, some 70 others had to be evicted.