Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Why I Support the BDS Movement or The Difficulties of Jews Criticizing Israel

There has been a good amount of media attention surrounding Brooklyn College’s Political Science Department and a student-run group called Students for Justice in Palestine hosting a forum on the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction Movement (BDS) featuring Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler.  Immediately, there were critical cries coming from the Anti-Defamation League, New York politicians, and of course the ubiquitous Alan Dershowitz.  As I have read about the controversy and subsequently the event, I am reminded of how hard it is to be critical of Israel in the United States.  And that is exacerbated when you are Jewish.  Recently, I published an article titled, “Soccer and Societal Bigotry: Israeli Style,” in Left Hook: A Critical Review of Sports and Society.  I thought that the article was rather mild as it criticized the overt racism of supporters of the team Beitar Jerusalem and made connections to Israel’s oppression of Palestine.

Racism in Israeli soccer corresponds directly to the bigotry that is prevalent in Israeli society. In Israel, however, the racism is magnified because of the discrimination and oppression of Palestinians, a practice that some people around the World, including the prestigious Bertrand Russell Tribunal, refer to as apartheid.

Okay, so using the “A” word invites condemnation.  I know that.  And while I was well aware of the hatred that is spewed toward those who criticize Israel, I wasn’t ready for the venom that followed the article from some of the people with whom I grew up in a small, Jewish enclave of a larger suburb on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio.  Comments by a close childhood friend represent the milder attitude.

Not sure why you pick Israel to pick on when there are so many countries doing so many things worse and at the same time not providing most of their citizens with the freedoms Israel provides its minorities.  Israel has more than its share of critics for such a small nation just trying to survive under the constant threat of extinction.

As a Jew you just don’t criticize Israel.

It was another person who immigrated to Israel shortly after high school that provided me with a personal reminder of why BDS is so important.  Israeli oppression is getting more rather than less harsh – in both dispositions and actions.  My old classmate offered numerous responses to my article and what he viewed as my impotent and harmful leftist views.

On writing about Israeli racism:

By singling out Israel (out of every nation on earth), I believe you have a broader agenda i.e., to demonize the Jewish State. It is a sickness no less than the "bigotry" about which you purport to write.

While he made a point of telling me that he wasn’t calling me a self-hating Jew, he did say:

Your fake attachment to Israeli Jews is evident by your zealous allegiance to a larger group of fake people and others (Jew-haters and Israel bashers), who are enemies of Israel and the Jewish people, enemies who want us dead.  Who loudly and daily call for our destruction. You are proud of this connection to these people and stand by them. You should be ashamed of yourself.

My classmate took on violence and Palestinians:

If people come to apply the harshest of violence on you - to take your life - you have the perfect right and obligation to stop them. This we do - no apologies. Sorry we have to because we value life.  But thank God we can defend ourselves. Defend ourselves against real criminals, killers.  This is the real world here not some ivory tower parlor chat.  Ever see bus bomb victims - big-time burns- women, children - civilians? I have.  Maybe you don't know it but we live surrounded by killers - beasts.  What, do you think these people stage peaceful sit-ins like the sixties? It is violence plain and simple.

My classmate on The Wall and again his view of Palestinian people:

Wall? What wall? Do you mean the barrier that stopped Palestinian Arab suicide bombers for coming into my town and blowing people to bits? Yes my town. Don't worry that wall will come down when Palestinian Arab terrorism ceases.  You can't occupy land that already belongs to you. It is disputed land. Resolution 194 is a code for the overwhelming of Israel with millions of Arabs thereby ending the Jewish majority that exists today. Right, like that'll happen.

At one point I commented that he sounds a lot like the apologists of apartheid in South Africa:

Heavens! "people" "accuse" me or Israelis of apartheid. Big deal. Does it make it so just because "people" think so. "People" have been "accusing" Israel (the Jews) of many things.: of killing non-Jewish children for their blood to use in the making of matza, of being behind 9/11 Twin Towers terrorist outrage (don't tell me you believe that there is even the slightest grain of truth to that load of crap), killing Jesus, owning all the banks, controlling the media, starting all the wars and on and on and on. Is it all true because people, even many people believe it? No and hell no. People will believe whatever they want to, I don't care, we aren't here to win any popularity contest.

So how does one even begin to respond on any level?  If we turn back to the BDS controversy at Brooklyn College, however, we see that the academics and politicians who view BDS as hateful and anti-Semitic, sound much like my former classmate.

First, it might be appropriate to review some of the brief history of the controversy surrounding the BDS forum at Brooklyn College.  As noted above, when the event was announced there was an immediate, intense, negative reaction.  Jewish organizations in the United States are very clear in their criticism of BDS and the Anti-Defamation League has spoken out against events at various universities including Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania where the ADF has equated BDS with strident anti-Semitism.  The organization has objected directly to university officials where students have voted for divestment and their critiques of former President Carter and Bishop Tutu have been very loud.  When Brooklyn College announced the forum, ADF took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times where they equated the right of Palestinians to return to their land with anti-Semitism.

To be fair to the critics of the BDS forum, their public issue was that the institution, Brooklyn College, should not be sponsoring a political point of view.  It is interesting, though, because Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz, one of the most vocal critics, did not complain about the very same Political Science department sponsoring a lecture that he presented at Brooklyn College.  As one professor recalled: “The department has sponsored hundreds of events, including Alan Dershowitz’s 2008 Konefsky Lecture where he defended torture, where there has been no one presenting the other side."

The call for fairness, though, appears spurious when one considers the language of the critics.  Before the forum took place, Dershowitz referred to the event as a “propaganda hate orgy.”  He has labeled BDS academic boycotts as “immoral, illegal and despicable” while at the same time distorting truth saying that the organization blacklists and boycotts Jewish Israeli professors.  While it is beyond the scope of this essay – academic institutions, not individual professors, are boycotted.  The three tenets of BDS are:

·      Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall.
·      Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.
·      Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

These are the topics that both Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler outlined in their presentations as the former said:  "It is time for Palestinians' freedom, justice and equality."

But between the time that the forum was first advertised and the actual staging of the event, it was local politicians who spewed the most venom.  Their words joined those of my school classmate.  In an article by Chemi Shaley in Haaretz, he wrote about the New York officials who had argued that the forum was a call for the end of Israel.

After 19 “progressive” politicians – including four members of the US Congress – wrote a letter to the College against the sponsorship, things took a turn for the worse when ten New York City Council members threatened to cut funding to the College – a widely respected academic institution sometimes referred to as “the poor man’s Harvard” - if it did not reverse its sponsorship.  “We believe in the principle of academic freedom. However we also believe in the principle of not supporting schools whose programs we, and our constituents, find to be odious and wrong” the council members’ letter said.

Some of these public voices became harsh as they misinterpreted history.  Council member Alan Maisel said: “We’re talking about the potential for a second Holocaust here.”  The most vocal critic was democratic New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind.  At a public meeting preceding the forum he was ultra-clear on his views of BDS and Palestinians.  He argued that the goal of BDS was to end Israel’s existence through a “philosophical war demonizing Jews and denying the rights of Jews to self-determination and equality.”  Hikund labeled BDS as “the modern incarnation of anti-Semitism – same stink, different excuse.”  Finally, his final assertions play to America’s definition of terrorism.

The BDS movement’s goal is to de-legitimize Israel’s existence. Like its philosophical brothers in Hamas, BDS aims to eliminate the State of Israel from the map. Only its tactics differ from its terrorist cousins: While Hamas blows up buses of innocent men, women and children, BDS works to isolate Israelis, to cut them off from business. Yes, BDS is the benevolent face of anti-Semitism. They don’t suggest killing Israeli citizens with bombs; they prefer starvation via isolation.  They think Hamas and Hezbollah are nice organizations, and they probably feel the same way about Al Qaeda!

Slogans, code words, whatever you want to call them: Interesting, though, is that Hikund accuses BDS of doing what the rest of the world sees as Israel’s actions in oppressing the Palestinian people – eliminate, isolate, cut off from business, killing innocent men, women, and children.  This is the same New York State Assemblyman who recently celebrated at a Purim party wearing black face makeup, an Afro wig, and a basketball jersey.  When asked about it on CBS radio news, Hikund said that he did not mean to offend anyone and that it “never crossed his mind that it might be offensive.”

But the words and the actions of Hikund, Dershowitz, and the others who tried to prohibit the BDS forum and punish Brooklyn College are more than offensive as they falsify history and ignore the present in terms of Israeli oppression of Palestine.  Chemi Shaley, previously cited above, analyzes their actions.

They make mountains out molehills, carve Nazis out of Palestinians, evoke pogroms and massacres from each and every violent incident. They don’t acknowledge the occupation, see nothing wrong with settlements or “Price Tag” violence, turn a blind eye to 46 years of Palestinian disenfranchisement, regardless of whose fault it is. They recognize only one truth, their own, and view all the rest as heresy and abomination. By their narrow definitions, no less than 50% of Israelis who voted in the last elections for parties that support a two-state solution should be condemned – possibly by the U.S. Senate itself – as Israel-hating, Arab-loving defeatists. 

The show did go on, however, with mild protests and thoughtful, political lectures from both Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler.  Barghouti was one of the 2005 founders of the BDS Movement and he also was a cofounder of the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.  Corresponding to the subtitle of this article, he explained to the audience that the voracious attempts to ban the BDS Forum were in fact a systematic program to “undermine an open dialogue about Israel's conduct and Palestinian resistance undertaken in order to demoralize those who support and take part in it.”

Barghouti spoke about post-1948 Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people and cited Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, to argue that the oppression had dehumanized both Israelis and Palestinians.  He concluded by outlining BDS successes since 2005 and compared the Movement to the worldwide Anti-Apartheid Movement that was one of the elements that led to the first democratic South African election in 2004.  Appropriately, Barghouti’s latest book, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights, was reviewed by one of the Worlds champions of peace, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

I have been to Palestine where I’ve witnessed the racially segregated housing and the humiliation of Palestinians at military roadblocks. I can’t help but remember the conditions we experienced in South Africa under apartheid. We could not have achieved our freedom without the help of people around the world using the nonviolent means of boycotts and divestment to compel governments and institutions to withdraw their support for the apartheid regime. Omar Barghouti’s lucid and morally compelling book is perfectly timed to make a major contribution to this urgently needed global campaign for justice, freedom and peace.

Omar Barghouti concluded his talk by explaining how important Israeli partners are to the cooperation and resistance of the BDS movement – he referred to it as “co-resistance.”
Judith Butler’s talk was two speeches in one – freedom of speech and the importance of the BDS Movement.  First, the essence of the Movement according to Butler:

The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement is, in fact, a non-violent movement; it seeks to use established legal means to achieve its goals; and it is, interestingly enough, the largest Palestinian civic movement at this time. That means that the largest Palestinian civic movement is a non-violent one that justifies its actions through recourse to international law. Further, I want to underscore that this is also a movement whose stated core principles include the opposition to every form of racism, including both state-sponsored racism and anti-Semitism. 

Through a further discussion on BDS and anti-Semitism, Butler connects to the “The Difficulties of Jews Criticizing Israel” portion of this essay.

If the Jew who struggles for justice for Palestine is considered to be anti-Semitic, if any number of internationals who have joined thus struggle from various parts of the world are also considered anti-Semitic and if Palestinians seeking rights of political self-determination are so accused as well, then it would appear that no oppositional move that can take place without risking the accusation of anti-Semitism. That accusation becomes a way of discrediting a bid for self-determination, at which point we have to ask what political purpose the radical misuse of that accusation has assumed in the stifling of a movement for political self-determination.

While some of my classmates from years ago as well as too high a percentage of American Jews still define Palestinians as terrorists, the points argued by Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler make the mission clear.  Not only must we all speak out for Palestine, but we also must support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction Movement.  North Americans like Angela Davis and Naomi Klein have brilliantly argued supportively for BDS, but it is the voices of Palestinian and Israeli allies that emphasize the importance of supporters throughout the world campaigning for BDS.  For those who have doubts about ideology or daily events on the ground in Palestine, please view the two films Five Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers that were nominated this year for Best Documentary Picture at the Academy Awards.  Palestinians and Israelis working on the ground against Israeli oppression include activists like Mustafa Barghouthi, Neve Gordon, Ilan Pappe, and Michael Warschawski.  Although their views are not unilateral, they all do believe that Israel is the oppressor and that there needs to be support and action through BDS.


Mustafa Barghouthi

Let us be clear: Israel has been working around the clock to destroy the option of an independent Palestinian state and, by extension, the two-state solution.  But that does not leave the Palestinian people without an alternative, as some Zionist leaders undoubtedly hope.  The single democratic state (not the single binational state), in which all citizens are equal in rights and duties regardless of their religious affiliations and origins, is an alternative to the attempt to force the Palestinians to accept slavery under occupation. 

Ilan Pappe

Today, Israel is a formidable settler-colonialist state, unwilling to transform or compromise, and eager to crush by whatever means necessary any resistance to its control and rule in historical Palestine.  Beginning with the ethnic cleansing of 80 percent of Palestine in 1948, and Israel’s occupation of the remaining 20 percent of the land in 1967, Palestinians in Israel are now enclaved in mega-prisons, bantustans, and besieged cantons, and singled out through discriminatory policies… The Israeli settler state continues to further colonize and uproot the indigenous people of Palestine.

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions

Neve Gordon

The only way to counter the apartheid trend in Israel is through massive international pressure.  The words and condemnations from the Obama administration and the European Union have yielded few results… I have decided to support the BDS movement… The objective is to ensure that Israel respects its obligations under international law, and that Palestinians are granted the right to self-determination… Nothing else has worked.  Putting massive international pressure on Israel is the only way to guarantee that the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians – my two boys included – does not grow up in an apartheid regime.

Michael Warschawski

BDS is addressed to the Israeli public.  At this historical juncture it is the only way to provoke a change in Israel’s attitude toward occupation and colonization.  If one compares it to the anti-apartheid BDS campaign that took twenty years to start bearing fruit, one cannot but be surprised how efficient the anti-Israeli occupation campaign has already been – even in Israel, we can already witness its first effects.

Palestinians, Israelis, and people throughout the world have witnessed Israel’s exacerbating occupation of Palestine.  While no one condones suicide bombers, Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people is not a debatable issue.  The critics of the Brooklyn Forum were not truthful but rather ideological – there are not two sides to the issue and that means that we must speak out and act as allies of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Soccer and Societal Bigotry – Israeli Style

Two months ago when A. C. Milan star, Kevin-Prince Boateng protested racist chants from opposing fans of Pro Patria, the video of him kicking the game ball into the crowd and walking off the field went viral.  Surprisingly, the critical mass of the opponent’s fans cheered Boetang.  Then, his teammates and coaches, those of Pro Patria, as well as the referees, walked off the pitch with him.  After the incident there was global support as well as demands for FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, to take substantive, rather than public relations action, against racism in the sport.

Now we have another shrill example from Israel where there are racist protests because Beitar, a Premier League (Ligat Ha'al) team in Jerusalem, have signed two Muslim players from Chechnyan Russian Premier League team Terek Grozny.  Beitar has a long history of racism and xenophobia, but they are not solely responsible for discrimination in the country’s soccer society.  Racism in Israeli soccer corresponds directly to the bigotry that is prevalent in Israeli society.  In Israel, however, the racism is magnified because of the discrimination and oppression of Palestinians, a practice that some people around the World, including the prestigious Bertrand Russell Tribunal, refer to as apartheid.

Beitar Jerusalem has a long, nationalist, Zionist history that matches the political foundation of the club.  The latest events, however, have brought more light on the crass, oppressive, and of course racist reality of the team and segments of Israeli society.  The Beitar movement was founded in Latvia by right wing, Zionist, Ze’ev Jabotinsky in 1923.  According to Beitar’s webpage: “The new youth movement aimed at educating its members with a military and nationalistic spirit.”  The organization grew in Eastern Europe and was responsible for emigrating approximately 40,000 people to Palestine by the 1940s.  In addition, Beitar partnered with the underground army, Irgun, in attacks on the Palestinian population before, during, and following World War II.  Beitar became affiliated with the Herut political party and then later Likud.  And like its political opposition, Hapoel (Workers’ Federation), Beitar started a football club.  Founded in 1936, the team became successful in the late 1970s under the leadership of Uri Malmilian who is sometimes referred to as the Israeli Pele.  Because of the club’s political foundation and history, supporters have included Prime Minister Netanyahu, neo-fascist Avigdor Liberman, and Parliament Speaker Reuven Rivlin.  Former Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, is a season ticket holder.  The teams’ history, however, has been racist and exclusionary.  In 76 years there has never been an Arab player, in spite of the fact that Arabs play on teams throughout all three divisions of Israeli soccer.  In addition, the team has signed only a handful of Muslims and in some of those cases the religion of the player was hidden by team management.  A decade ago a Nigerian, Muslim player, Ibrahim Nadallah, was signed to play with Beitar Jerusalem.  In correspondence to the anti-Muslim and racist dispositions of both Israeli society and soccer, the team’s fans harassed Nadallah viciously.  Nadallah left before completing his initial season in Israel. 

During his stay at Beitar Jerusalem, Ibrahim Nadallah endured chants of kushi, the ‘n’ word in Hebrew.  The team’s fans besieged him with monkey calls as they threw bananas at him on the pitch. They delivered the same derision for black, Israeli star, Baruch Dego, also born Nigerian but adopted by an Israeli woman when he was two years old.  If more venomous behavior is possible, the Beitar Jerusalem fans have saved their worst vitriolic for Arab players.  One particular case involved Israeli national team player, Salim Toamah, who is an Israeli-Arab.  After Beitar Jerusalem beat his Tel Aviv team for the league championship in 2008, Beitar fans sang the following words to the melody of an Israeli folk song that promotes the civil rights of Israeli-Arabs:
What’s Salim doing here? I don’t know.
What’s going on here I ask?
From all around me I hear,
Toamah here is the Land of Israel!
This is the Jewish state!
I hate you Salim Toamah,
I hate all the Arabs.

There are many more racist, anti-Arab incidents revolving around Beitar Jerusalem.  How can you even begin to address this hatred when fans still take pride in a pre-game chant that includes: "Here it comes, the racist team of the country."  While there are Israelis, mostly on the left, that fight and challenge the oppression of Palestinians by their country, some of the country’s critics believe that it is getting more difficult to confront Israeli racism and bigotry.  Hebrew University historian Moshe Zimmerman worries that bigotry is more pronounced – both in the country and at Beitar Jerusalem.

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. The fact is that the Israeli society on the whole is getting more racist, or at least more ethnocentric, and this is an expression.

The recent incident at Beitar Jerusalem in some ways parallels Professor Zimmerman’s point of view.  In other ways, it points to both nominal and substantive resistance.  In January 2013, the team owner and Russian oligarch, Arcadi Gaydamak, announced that he was signing two Chechnyan players from the Russian Premier League team Terek Grozny.  The players, 19-year-old midfielder Dzhabrail Kadiyev and 23-year-old striker Zaur Sadayev are both Muslims.  The announcement of the signings came just before the Israeli election and the reaction from at least some of the Beitar Jerusalem fan base was swift and venomous.  Criticism regarding the actions of the bigots came as both window dressing and serious confrontation.  The fans’ racism was evident at two Beitar Jerusalem matches just after the signings of Kadiyev and Sadayev.  On the Saturday after Gaydamak signed the players, a day that also happened to be the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, fans’ bigotry imploded on players from rival Hapoel Tel Aviv.  While one might question how knowledgeable Beitar Jerusalem hooligans are in terms of a detailed history of their own club or Hapoel, they do understand the historical essence and know that their team was founded within the Zionist right while there opponents come from the opposite “progressive” Zionist tradition.

Beitar fans welcomed Hapoel with a banner “Beitar forever pure” and chants of “Death to Arabs,” “Death to Muslims,” and “No entry to Arabs.”  None of this, of course, was new for Beitar fans, however, there appeared to be more intensity because of the forthcoming addition of Muslim players.  The brunt of their attacks, on this particular day, was hurled at Nigerian born Hapoel player Toto Tamuz, who scored a goal in the match.[1]  Both Tamuz and his Nigerian teammate, Eric Djemba Djemba, were met with the same racist chants cited earlier in the article.  Being called a Kushi is the norm for African players at Beitar Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium.

There was also more subtle, political, racism at Teddy Stadium on the eve of both the Israeli elections and International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Two right wing politicians, Michael Ben Ari and Aryeh Eldad, attended the game in a clear attempt to garner the votes of Beitar Jerusalem hooligans.  Neither man was elected to the Knesset!  After the match, the actions of Beitar fans were condemned but that did not stop the fans from even worse displays of racism and pure bigotry two days later when Maccabi Umm al-Fahm came to play at Teddy Stadium.  The declaration of Hapoel Tel Aviv players after the game might be the most forward reaching and impactful response in terms of Israeli football.  Backed by management, and in correspondence to Kevin-Prince Boateng’s stand cited at the beginning of this article, the players announced that they would walk off the pitch if they were met with the same racism that they experienced from Beitar supporters.

Both the coach of Beitar Jerusalem, Eli Cohen, and the owner, Arcadi Gaydamak, spoke out against the bigotry of the team’s fans.  However, Gaydamak ignored past and present bigotry and oppression from both his team and Israeli society and blamed the racist violence on the stupid acts of a few youngsters.

Unfortunately, racism and bigotry in Israeli society and thus Israeli soccer is not just the “stupid acts of a few youngsters.”  Likud politicians who are among the fan base of Beitar Jerusalem also castigated the hooligans.  But like Gaydamak, there was neither depth nor breadth in their declarations.  Current Speaker of the Knesset, Reuvin Rivlin, chastised the fans saying: “Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Imagine the outcry if groups in England or Germany said that Jews could not play for them.”   Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat also condemned Beitar Jerusalem fans, but he praised the club for speaking out against them.  And although he did globalize the issue in terms of bigotry, he misrepresented the problem as belonging solely to a segment Beitar Jerusalem fans.  Finally, he crafted his statements to question how the actions of the hooligans would affect Jews.

As we do not want Jews to be abused around the world simply because they are Jews… we must value Muslims and Christians playing on our sports teams. This is not just a soccer matter, but an international Jewish issue… The whole world watched Jerusalem’s behavior, and that racism among Beitar fans hurt the whole city.
The strongest statement came from former Prime Minister Olmert who criticized the racism as “hatred, contempt, disgust, and intolerance of the darkest kind.”  Adding, “This issue should concern us all. If we do not remove these racists from our stadium and disconnect them from the team, we will be just like them.”

While it is difficult to argue with Olmert’s condemnation, it too implies that there is a small problem to fix.  But, the Israeli society he describes is far from the present reality in terms of bigotry, racism, anti-Arab, and anti-Palestinian dispositions and actions.

Two days after the Hapoel match, Beitar’s racist fans were in full force when Maccabi Umm al-Fahm, a predominantly Israeli-Arab team, came to play in Jerusalem.  Police were stationed around the neighborhood and some of the better-known Beitar hooligans were barred from the stadium.  Ironically, the first banner seen at the stadium read, “Beitar fans against violence and racism."  Although hopeful, it was dwarfed by other signs and incessant, bigoted chanting.  Back from the previous match was “Beitar pure forever,” reminiscent of the same types of placards seen regarding Jews in Nazi Germany.  Before the match, Umm al-Fahm’s coach, Samir Issa, had publicly stated that his team would leave the field if fans cursed the Prophet Muhammad.  Issa also said: “It was important for both the teams to cooperate in a “supreme effort” to change the stereotypes and make sure that no problems arose.”  The Beitar chants were definitively racist and anti-Arab.  It must be said, however, that the 1,000 Arab fans attending the game, segregated by a fence in a corner of the stadium, answered abusive taunts.  One of those fans said: “They’re always cursing the Prophet Muhammad, so we came to answer back.” For some reason, however, Beitar did not present their entire repertoire and there was no mention of the Prophet.  But Beitar Jerusalem fans were clear about their racism as they left the stadium.  Comments included: “Arabs are impure people” and “all Palestinians are terrorists.”

Might it be that for the Beitar Jerusalem hooligans as well as other Israeli people, “all Palestinians are terrorists” equates to an oppressive, colonial, anti-Muslim, and possibly apartheid disposition that is part of the Israeli psyche that is promoted by the beliefs and actions of Israel’s current government.  And that said, the issue of bigotry and racism within Israeli soccer cannot be divorced from the same in the whole of Israeli society.  In an article entitled “Some Fear a Soccer Team’s Racist Fans Hold a Mirror Up to Israel,” Jodi Rudoren writes that the current government enacted at least 20 new laws that discriminate against Arab-Israeli citizens including neighborhood housing covenants.  In addition, the Coalition Against Racism reported that during 2011 and 2012 racist incidents in Israel had risen by close to 30 percent.

There is no question that the overt racism of Beitar Jerusalem soccer fans corresponds to the bigotry that exists in Israeli society.  The team fan club, La Familia, is representative of the far right anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, and anti-Palestinian segment of Israeli society and of course needs to be dealt with.  But it also might be that the Beitar fans who are softer, or its more famous fans who condemn the racism but ignore the societal reality, and actually promote the oppression of Palestine through their support and facilitation of settlements and IDF violent oppression are the bigger problem.  Unfortunately, Israeli leaders, just as other leaders throughout the world, do not make the society-sports connection.  In Israel it is more stark because Palestinian oppression is both harsh and deadly – might the Beitar Jerusalem racism help us make the link.

[1] Even more ironically while Beitar Jerusalem was not penalized for the actions of their fans, Tamuz was exiled from the game by the referee when he celebrated scoring his goal.  Not only was the referee not in tune with the racist atmosphere, sports radio in Israel reported that the taunts toward Tamuz were not racist but rather in response to him being a former Beitar player.  How did they explain the treatment of Djemba Djemba?