Forget the Palestinian Mandela, where is the Israeli Branch Rickey?

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Jodi Rudoren continues to follow the story of the racism surrounding Beitar Jerusalem’s decision to sign two Muslim soccer players. Be sure to watch the video that accompanies the story. The latest twist is that Beitar offices have been attacked by arsonists:

In anticipation of the Muslim players’ arrival, some fans unfurled a banner at the team’s Jan. 26 game saying “Beitar Pure Forever.” Some critics said the banner was reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s expulsion of Jews from sport, and it led to nationwide soul-searching.

Four fans were indicted on Thursday for incitement. Beitar headquarters were set on fire at 5 a.m. Friday, according to the police, destroying the team’s trophies, commemorative jerseys of former stars, championship flags, photographs and books. “All the history of Beitar Jerusalem,” said the team spokesman, Asaf Shaked. “It’s not damage by money, it’s damage by emotion.”

The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, also condemned the violence on Friday, likening the perpetrators to the mafia. Limor Livnat, Israel’s minister of culture and sport, said she would attend Sunday’s game to show support for the team’s management.

Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said a special investigative team was looking into the arson, which he said “gushed through the offices,” and that the police would not only send hundreds of extra officers to Sunday’s game, but seek to arrest troublemakers beforehand.

Eli Abarbanel, a senior state prosecutor and Beitar fan, said on Israel Radio Friday that the soccer struggle reflected “a broad phenomenon of racism in all of Israeli society,” citing expressions of “joy” on social media after a recent bus accident that killed 20 Palestinian children.

Beitar’s manager Itzik Kornfein strives to play the role of Branch Rickey, who nearly 70 years ago signed Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers making him the first African American player in professional baseball (Robinson faced similar racist intimidation to the Beitar players today). In a quote that I find shocking in 2013, Kornfein has to make the case for “integration”:

Itzik Kornfein, Beitar’s manager, also said that the dispute had “gone beyond sports” and had “ramifications for Israeli society and for how we look to the world.” Speaking to Israel Radio, Mr. Kornfein vowed not to back down from his decision to integrate the team, saying, “I don’t compromise on the matter of racism” and predicting that “after violence of this kind, people will come to their senses.”

Israeli racism reminiscent of 1940s America. Here’s some history:

And just because I can’t help it, here’s more on Lester Rodney, a fascinating sports reporter.

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