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Fans of Israeli football club protest against sale to UAE official

December 30, 2020 at 10:32 am

Fans of the Israeli Premier League football team Beitar Jerusalem wait for the kick-off in Hungary on 6 July 2017 [Laszlo Szirtesi/Getty Images]

An Israeli football club notorious for the anti-Arab racism of its fans is facing a crisis now that a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family has bought a 50 per cent stake in the club. The shares in Beitar-Jerusalem have been bought by Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Nahyan.

The team plays in the Israeli premier league and has no Arab players. It is popular among illegal Israeli settlers and politicians such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was once its chairman.

“The deal has turned many fans against the club,” loyal supporter Moar Ifrach told the Guardian. He backs the deal, hoping that it will give Beitar a boost, as UAE money has done for English Premier League club Manchester City. However, he feels that a small cohort of extreme fans will never accept having an Arab co-owner of the club. “The reputation for racism did not come from nowhere,” he pointed out.

Members of the far-right fanbase, known as “La Familia”, were accused of spraying anti-Arab slogans on walls and chanting “f**k Bin Khalifa” when the purchase was announced. The sale threatened the Jewishness not only of the club but the entire city of Jerusalem, claimed one anonymous member of the group.

READ: Israel football club UAE co-owner opens door to Arab players

According to owner Moshe Hogeg, he and Bin Khalifa “want to show the world that Jews and Muslims can do beautiful things together and inspire the young generation.”

The Guardian pointed out that the deal could actually be more about the UAE gaining political capital with its new ally, Israel, and Washington. Bin Khalifa, it noted, referred to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.