Players for Beitar Jerusalem, seen in yellow and black jerseys at a recent match against Maccabi Haifa, won’t have an Arab teammate any time soon, coach promises. (Henk Vogel/Flickr)
The coach of Israel’s Beitar Jerusalem football team has said that he won’t bring on an Arab player out of respect for his club’s racist fans.
“I don’t think it’s the right time. It would cause tensions and create much greater damage,” Guy Levi told Israel’s 102FM radio, according to Ynet.
Levi said that he didn’t think there were any Palestinian citizens of Israel who would play for his team.
“Even if there were a player who fit in professionally, I would not bring him in,” Levi said, “because it would create unnecessary tensions.”
While racism is endemic in Israeli football, Beitar is particularly notorious for the violence and hatred of its fans who have habitually rampaged in the streets chanting “Death to the Arabs” and anti-Muslim slurs.
Asked if he didn’t think bringing in an Arab player would help change the racist culture of the fans, Levi replied: “Let the education minister change the culture and not ask us to change the culture of a people that is centuries old.”
Levi said his job was to “coach the team, not to educate anyone.”
He then praised the club’s fans, which he called by their nickname “La Familia”: “I met La Familia recently, excellent people and fantastic fans. I respect the people who support my team.”
Six Israelis arrested for last summer’s abduction and lynching of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khudair in eastern occupied Jerusalem were all reportedly members of “La Familia,” and would therefore have regularly been exposed to racist incitement.
In 2013, Beitar managers angered fans by bringing on two Muslim players from Chechnya.
Club manager Eli Cohen tried to calm them at the time by saying that “There’s a difference … between a European Muslim and an Arab Muslim.”
Ahmed Tibi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a member of Israel’s parliament, condemned Levi’s statements.
“This is the kind of thing that encourages racism and hatred in Israeli society in general and in Israeli football in particular,” Tibi said.
Tibi noted that the international football federation FIFA would take a keen interest as it already monitors racism in the Israeli league.
But while other countries have suffered sanctions for racism, Israel has so far been given impunity.
Despite the pervasive racism, there are some Arab players on predominantly Jewish teams and Jewish players on predominantly Arab teams in the Israeli league.