A small low-budget team from northern Israel with four Arab citizens of Israel on its team has just won the championship, while the Arab-free Israeli soccer club notorious for its racist fan base came out a loser.
By Issa Boursheh
Racism and violence are on the rise in Israel’s soccer fields. In March alone, there were four recorded violent incidents linked to Israeli soccer. The one that shocked me the most due to its nationalist nature was the rioting and the chanting of the Beitar Jerusalem Football Club (FC) fans in the Malcha Mall, which led to an attack on Arab workers.
Many respected figures have written about the phenomenon of Beitar’s racist fans, at times attributed to a “minority” of extremists. Former Minister of Education Yossi Sarid compared Beitar fans to the extreme hilltop settler youth and suggested that an international institute (like the Union of European Football Associations) should chip in and deal with this once and for all. Sarid is bothered by Beitar’s unwritten policy of excluding Arabs from their roster. Well, honestly, I don’t think any Arab player would want to sign with Beitar Jerusalem, regardless of the offer and the salary that the team might propose, should this ever happen.
I am more worried about the practice of excluding Israel’s largest minority from the workplace, which is not exclusive to Beitar Jerusalem FC. And I am more concerned about the employment market and status of education than the soccer field. Why? Because this time, it’s Beitar’s own loss! When Walid Badir, playing for Hapoel Tel Aviv lifted the championship plate on May 2010, and Hapoel Tel Aviv beat Beitar Jerusalem on Beitar’s home turf at Teddy Stadium, I realized how African Americans felt when baseball legend Jackie Robinson took the field in April 1947.
Beitar has never had a single Palestinian player in its lineups since its establishment, which takes me back to the pre-1947 United States, before Jackie Robinson first put on the LA Dodgers uniform. Today, many professional sport teams, not just in the United States, have a majority of African American players and the Hall of Fame of every possible sport has an impressively diverse list. If any professional sport team in the United States were to decide to exclude an African American, Chinese, or any other individual based on his ethnicity, that team would most likely be treated like a leper.
In Israel 2012, Palestinian-Israelis are playing a major role in the Premier League, and the top scorer of the league is the Palestinian-Israeli Achmad Saba’a, currently contracted with Maccabi Netanya. Kiryat Shmona, the champions this season, have at least four Palestinian-Israelis on the team. The list is long and with all the controversy around singing the Israeli national anthem, between four and six Palestinian Israelis are playing on the national team. Maybe now we can “blame” Arab labor for any failures.
For now I will sit on my couch and enjoy the flourishing representation of the Arab players. I think we have more aspirations regarding our role in Israel’s society – in the economy, politics, culture and sports too. And I quote Yossi Sarid: “Kiryat Shmona is a champion, and Beitar is trailing behind at the bottom of the ranking; when was the last time they claimed the crown? This is the curse placed upon them for their race theory, and that curse has sentenced the team to average performance and below.”
Issa Boursheh is a graduate student at Tel-Aviv University and blogs at http://www.twenty2nine.com