‘NYT’ covers Beitar Jerusalem fans campaign against Muslim players and says racism may threaten Israeli-hosted tournament

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Israel’s racism has made its way to the New York Times via soccer, the same sport that led to the dismantling of South Africa’s Apartheid regime. Jodi Rudoren reports, Some Fear a Soccer Team’s Racist Fans Hold a Mirror Up to Israel:

The angry, defiant exchanges that punctuated Tuesday night’s unusually tense game here came amid intense protests by Beitar Jerusalem supporters over the team owner’s plans to recruit two Muslim players from Chechnya. Some young men had unfurled a banner at the previous game declaring “Beitar pure forever,” which reminded many here of Nazi Germany’s purging of Jews from athletics in 1933 and prompted statewide discussion about racism on and off the field.

“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,” said Moshe Zimmermann, a historian at Hebrew University who specializes in sports. “The fact is that the Israeli society on the whole is getting more racist, or at least more ethnocentric, and this is an expression.”

Reaction to the purity banner, perhaps the most controversial in a series of Beitar outbursts, was swift. One of the fans who made the sign was arrested and banned from games for the season. Fifty more were barred from Tuesday’s match, along with banners of all kinds, and the team was fined about $13,500, amid concerns that the episode could threaten Israel’s scheduled hosting of a European Under 21 soccer tournament in June.

Israel will be hosting the European Football Federation (UEFA) 2013 Under-21 Football Championship finals between the 5–18 June 2013. Palestinian sports groups responded immediately after that decision was made in June 2011 urging UEFA President Michel Platini not to “reward Israel for its violent repression of Palestinian rights.” Platini has come under mounting international pressure to strip Israel of hosting rights ever since.

Federation of International Football  (FIFA) president condemned Israel’s imprisonment of Palestinian soccer players on June 12, 2012. Six days later on June 18th Israel agreed to release Palestinian soccer star and hunger striker Mahmoud Sarsak from prison on July 10, 2012.

UN General Assembly adopted the International Convention Against Apartheid in Sports in 1985. Like no other institution in South Africa it was soccer that led to the dismantling of the regime and defeated Apartheid. Dave Zirin, The Nation:

BDS activist Laura Durkay said to me…..“The next step should be to move from symbolic statements to actions to boycott and isolate Israel in the sports world, according to the guidelines for cultural boycott set out by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee.”

Petitioning UEFA President Michel Platini: Remove UEFA 2013 European Under-21 Championship from Israel. Sign here.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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