Supporters of Beitar Jerusalem hold a banner reading “Beitar will always remain pure.” (Reuters/Stringer)
“It’s not racism. They just shouldn’t be here.”
Not even in the earliest days of Jackie Robinson’s 1947 historic debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers did Brooklyn’s white fans walk out after number 42 stole a base or hit a home run. The Brooklyn faithful’s love of “Dem Bums” trumped any racism that simmered in the stands. What does it say that sixty-six years later, Israeli fans of the soccer club Beitar Jerusalem have not evolved to postwar-Brooklyn standards of human decency?
Earlier this season, Beitar Jersulam broke their own version of the “color line” by signing the first two Muslim players in team history: Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev. Predictably, Beitar’s supporters were madder than the NRA in a school zone. Boos have rained down on Sadayev and Kadiyev every time they’ve taken the field or touched the ball. Several members of a team fan club flew a banner that read, “Beitar is pure forever.” Two others attempted to burn down the team offices. This pales, however, next to what happened when Sadayev scored his first goal for the team last week. After the striker found glory, hundreds of Beitar Jerusalem fans simply stood up and walked out. Even by soccer standards, where racism on the pitch is a continual plague, this organized nature of the action was shocking.
As one 19-year-old fan told The Independent, “The reaction to the Muslim players being here is not racist. But the club’s existence is under threat. Beitar is a symbol for the whole country.” Another said, “It’s not racism, they just shouldn’t be here…. Beitar Jerusalem has always been a clean club, but now it’s being destroyed—many of the other players are thinking of leaving because of the Muslim players being here,”
Moshe Zimmermann, a sports historian at Hebrew University, told The New York Times that he sees something darker at work in the soccer stands than just hooligans taking fandom too far: “People in Israel usually try to locate Beitar Jerusalem as some kind of the more extreme fringe; this is a way to overcome the embarrassment. The fact is that the Israeli society on the whole is getting more racist, or at least more ethnocentric, and this is an expression.”