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Monday, 20 July 2015

Beitar Jerusalem riots: future in balance for football club

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 20, 2015

The future of Beitar Jerusalem, the Israeli capital's main football club, remained in the balance this week as the team's owner announced he would put it up for sale following a riot during an away game in Belgium last Thursday. 

Beitar also faces disciplinary action from Uefa over racist chanting by the club’s travelling supporters, who threw smoke-grenades and firecrackers onto the pitch in Charleroi and allegedly also threw an object that injured the home team's goalkeeper. 

For years, the team that numbers President Ruvi Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu among its fans, has been the focus of controversy. 

The club’s extremist supporters’ group, "La Familia", regularly flies flags of Kach, a banned group designated by the Israeli government as a terror organisation, and sings anti-Arab songs during matches

Beitar was founded in 1936 by the Zionist Revisionist movement - the ideological forefather of Likud. Unlike other top Israeli football clubs, it has never fielded an Arab player. 

Some of its supporters claim that there are just "a handful" of racists giving the club a bad name, but the La Familia group - which revels in its own extremist reputation, singing "he she comes, the racist team of the nation" - has long been tolerated and even allowed to store its banners on the team's premises. 

Beitar fans in Belgium said that they had responded to antisemitic and pro-Palestinian chants from the opposing side. However, businessman Eli Taviv, who has owned Beitar for the last two years, blamed his own team's fans and announced on Friday morning that he would be pulling out. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said in a statement that the supporters had harmed Israel's image. 

Mr Taviv's departure, even before the heavy fine that can be expected from Uefa, will make it very difficult for the team to meet its wages commitment and will probably lead to the release of players. This will, in turn, put Beitar's survival in the top flight in danger.

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