Socialist Worker

Racism is at the heart of football in Israel

Israel’s football team is mired in the country’s racist politics. People are right to call a boycott of matches in Wales, writes Nick Clark

Issue No. 2468

Palestinian solidarity activists plan to protest as the Welsh and Israeli national football teams play in Cardiff next Sunday. 

Protest organisers Red Card Israeli Racism want football fans to boycott games with Israel. And they want the international football association Fifa to suspend the Israeli association.

Outrage at Israel has grown massively since the murderous assault on Gaza last year. With it comes a growing movement for solidarity with the Palestinians.

But what has football got to do with this? Racism is endemic in Israeli football— particularly towards Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims.

Nowhere is this more apparent than at Beitar Jerusalem, one of the top teams in Israel’s Premier League.

Beitar has always been associated with the Israeli right. A favourite chant of supporters is “Death to Arabs”. 

Torched

When Beitar signed two Muslim players from Chechnya in 2013, members of Beitar’s “ultras” group La Familia torched the club’s offices.

And when one of those players scored his first goal, fans staged a mass walkout.

The club’s owners and various Israeli politicians try to distance themselves from this racism.

But Beitar has never signed an Arab player—a fact that their coach Guy Levi tried to justify in April because “it would create unnecessary tensions”.

And the racism goes much further than just the fans—it’s part of the institution.

The Israeli FA does next to nothing to stop racism at clubs like Beitar.

But it has allowed five clubs from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank to join the league.

Meanwhile Palestinian footballers are routinely prevented from playing when Israeli soldiers detain them at checkpoints.

And in January last year Israeli soldiers in the West Bank shot two teenage Palestinian footballers in the feet as they walked home from training. The soldiers then set dogs on the teenagers before beating them.

In 2013 the Israeli FA sent a letter to Fifa demanding that “The Palestine Football Association must operate through the formal channels of the state of Israel.”

This is telling. The Israeli state is founded on the oppression of Palestinians.

Demolished

Many Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem have their homes demolished while the Israeli government allows the construction of Israeli settlements.

And Palestinians living inside Israel are denied the same rights as Jewish citizens.

So the basis for the racism in Israeli football lies at the heart of Israeli society.

But Israel wants to use football and other areas of culture to convince people that it is a state like any other.

Protests such as the one organised in Cardiff can help expose those lies.

In 1970 activists managed to stop the South African cricket team from touring England after a series of protests that drew attention to the country’s racist apartheid regime.

Perhaps protests aimed at Israeli football can do the same today.

For info on how you can join to protest go to palestinecampaign.org/events/cardiffrally and rcir.org.uk

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Tue 25 Aug 2015, 17:09 BST
Issue No. 2468
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