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January 23, 2004 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-01-23

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

PHOBIA from page 23

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Bnei Sakhnin fans cheer during the game, before Monday's violence.


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working together," said Eliezer Yaari,
executive director of the New Israel
Fund, an organization that promotes
equality, democracy and social justice.
Lior Asulin, a Jewish player, scored
the winning goal for the Arab team,
Bnei Sakhnin. He was cheered and
hoisted on his teammates' shoulders as
fans roared and whooped.
Racism in Israeli soccer stems mostly
from Jewish fans who feel they can
shout slogans such as "Death to the
Arabs" and "Go to Palestine" without
fear of repercussion, experts say. The
same cannot be said for their Arab
Jews playing on Arab teams say they
feel at home on their teams. The Arab
fans "give us lots of respect; there is no
racism. They treat us well and we enjoy
every minute," Asulin said, smiling as he
was slapped on the back after the game
by a steady stream of fans.
In the late 1970s, the first Arab play-
ers were included on Jewish teams of the
top league. This season, for the first
time, two Arab teams, Bnei Sakhnin
and Maccabi Ahi Nazareth, performed
well enough to be included in the pre-
mier league.
In a sign of soccer's potential to
become a beacon for coexistence, fans of
the Nazareth team cheered when Israel's
star player, Chaim Revivo, appeared on
the field to play for the Jewish team of
Ashdod. The Ashdod fans applauded
the Nazareth fans in return.
Last year, a team from the Arab town
of Kafr Kana was invited to play a
match in Jordan but were told by the
Jordanians that they would have to leave
their Jewish players behind. The Kafr
Kana management refused to go with-
out the Jewish players.
Sponsors also may shy away from
teams with a reputation for racism. The
Cellcam phone company dropped its
sponsorship of Beitar Jerusalem, which
is considered to have the most racist fans
in the country. The fans have shouted
"Death to the Arabs" for the duration of
entire games, and the team is the only
one in the premier league that has never
hired an Arab player.
Team officials denied any link
between Cellcom's decision to drop its

sponsorship and fan behavior. At Beitar
Jerusalem games, song sheets have been
passed out with racist lyrics. At one
game, the song was directed at one of
Israel's top Arab players, Salim Toameh,
who plays for Hapoel Tel Aviv. "This is
the Land of Israel, Toameh. This is the
Jewish state. I hate you Salim Toameh, I
hate all the Arabs," the fans sang.
The song now is commonly heard at
games across the country and is directed
at Arab players, whether or not Toameh
is playing.
According to the New Israel Fund
racism index, Beitar Jerusalem fans
ranked as the most racist. Beitar
Jerusalem spokesman Lior Mai took
issue with the index, saying it provoked
fans to want to win first place — even
as first-place racists.
Racism on the Israeli soccer fields is
not limited to the Arab-Jewish arena.
Black players — both Ethiopian Jews
and players from Africa — have been
taunted with shouts of "Dirty black"
and "Go back to the jungle."
Baruch Dago, a Jewish Ethiopian
player for Maccabi Tel Aviv, is consider-
ing leaving the team because he is so
disheartened by racist slurs hurled at
him by his own team's fans.
Anti-black sentiment is especially rife
in European soccer, and public aware-
ness campaigns are trying to help fight
it. Anti-Semitic epithets sometimes are
shouted at players on British and Dutch
teams considered to be "Jewish teams"
because they either are owned by Jews
or traditionally have been supported by
Jewish fans.
In the dilapidated streets of the
Hatikva neighborhood, Bnei Yehuda is
king. One teenage supporter, catching
his breath after running after the bus of
Bnei Sakhnin fans, tried to downplay
the racism. "In the Hatikva neighbor-
hood, we have only one thing to be
proud of: Bnei Yehuda. It's not a person-
al thing between Jews and Arabs," said
Ben-Ezra, 17.
But his friend, Lior Mizrani; also 17,
said racial epithets are part of general
tensions. "We do say these things out of
hatred," he said. "It comes from all the
terror attacks and shootings and it ends
up here, on the soccer field." ❑

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