Eli Cohen, the manager of Israel’s notoriously racist Beitar Jerusalem football team, has tried to calm fans angered by a decision to recruit two players from the Russian Premier League side FC Terek Grozny which is based in the capital of the Muslim-majority region of Chechyna.
But while ostensibly refuting the fans racism, Cohen simply compounded it by developing a hierarchy of Muslims against which bigotry is acceptable. European Muslims are OK, Arab Muslims – such as Palestinian citizens of Israel who already play for many other Israeli teams including the national squad – are out.
Cohen told Israel’s Ynet:
I don’t understand the fans who don’t want to see a Muslim play with Beitar. There’s a billion Muslims in the world and we need to know how to live with them. There’s a difference, and it makes a difference, between a European Muslim and an Arab Muslim and the fans here have a problem with Arabs living in the Middle East. I understand the difficulty of the subject and I hope that with the help of the Board what is needed will be done.
Cohen spoke after Beitar lost a match to Bnei Yehuda during which Beitar fans chanted racist slogans, according to Ynet. Bnei Yehuda player Sari Falah, on loan from Maccabi Haifa, is a Palestinian citizen of Israel who has previously spoken about racism on the pitch.
Beitar’s bigotry even reported by ESPN
Beitar Jerusalem was the subject of a recent ESPN documentary you can watch online, because it is so notorious for its fans’ open hatred of Arabs.
Last year a mob of Beitar Jerusalem fans rampaged through the Malha shopping mall in Jerusalem chanting “Death to the Arabs” and randomly attacking Arab workers.
Israel awarded UEFA contests despite unchecked racism
But it is not just Beitar Jerusalem. The racism in Israeli football is so rife that last year even Haaretz called for action, noting:
Only in Israeli soccer can a club block Arabs from joining its ranks, and harsh violence is treated solely as a disciplinary infraction, to be handled by the Israel Football Association’s internal court. The anarchy and lack of police enforcement have turned Israeli soccer into a source of violence, racism and hatred, and has even started to attract dubious characters, who at times manage the teams.
Israel gets to break the rules, again
In other countries, teams have faced international sanctions for racist incitement by fans, and the issue of racism in football was recently brought to the fore when players from AC Milan walked off a game in Italy due to abuse of black players. Although players have criticized bodies like UEFA and FIFA for not taking racism seriously enough, the issue has gotten more attention.
Yet Israeli football has escaped all scrutiny, and despite the rampant racism and violence, UEFA has awarded Israel the honor of hosting this year’s Under 21 tournament.
Recently, top world footballers condemned UEFA’s decision to award the tournament to Israel in light of Israel’s violence against Palestinian athletes and other human rights abuses.
The unchecked racist violence in Israel’s domestic leagues is another reason why Israel doesn’t deserve to host any international tournaments. But Israel, like in so many other things, is allowed to flout all the rules that everyone else must obey.