April 11, 2021

Jerusalem football club’s Israeli and Arab co-owners vow to stamp out racism

Notorious for its vocal minority of racist fans who chant abuse at Muslim players, it might seem the first choice for Arab investors seeking to build up a portfolio in the footballing world.

Beitar Jerusalem, an Israeli premier league club, has such a benighted reputation that rogue fans were once rebuked by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, himself a supporter, at a 2013 cabinet meeting.

But this has not deterred Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, an Emirati royal family member, from purchasing a 50 per cent stake in Beitar and becoming its new co-owner, as the club’s leadership embarked on an anti-racism campaign.

The £69m deal, announced with a photograph where the Sheikh posed with a Beitar strip and Moshe Hogeg, the club’s Israeli co-owner, gave the peace sign, was made possible by a seismic development in Middle East geopolitics earlier this year.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates, along with Bahrain, signed a historic, US-backed normalisation agreement in September which has unlocked dozens of trade deals, as well as direct flights and full diplomatic relations between the three countries.

Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Hogeg said he believes the partnership could be his best chance yet at stamping out racism in the club once and for all.

“When I spoke with Sheikh Hamad, I saw first of all a person who was very intelligent, but who also shared my ideology of co-existence and of being brave,” said Mr Hogeg. “If we do it in the right way, if we succeed, I think we can inspire a lot of people worldwide.

Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan's and Beitar Jerusalem F.C. owner Moshe Hovav pose for a photo in Dubai – Reuters
Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan’s and Beitar Jerusalem F.C. owner Moshe Hovav pose for a photo in Dubai – Reuters
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The co-owners’ main challenge will be “showing the light” to a hardcore Beitar fan group, La Familia, which is known to chant anti-Arab and anti-Muslim slogans during matches.

Referring to La Familia, Mr Hogeg condemned them as an “extremely racist” minority who “don’t really care about the club.” “We want to show them by example that Jews and Muslims should not be enemies all the time,” he said.

The anti-racism campaign will also feature Sheikh Hamad’s son, Mohammed, who will represent his father on the club’s board of directors.

Speaking at a press conference earlier this month, the elder royal said Beitar’s racist fans were “misled and brainwashed,” adding that he hopes to “show them the light, the right path.” Though it is adored by Israeli right-wingers and is in the country’s premier league, Beitar is a fairly small club compared to those already acquired by Emirati investors, such as Sheikh Mansour-owned Manchester City.

It is perhaps the strongest indication that the deal is more politically than financially motivated. But many fans have angrily rejected their new co-owner, suggesting that the club faces a monumental task in the years to come.

Five fans were arrested during protests at Beitar’s training facility earlier this month, as demonstrators shouted “Moshe Hogeg is dead” and “f*** bin Khalifa,” referring to the club’s co-owners.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the slogans “death to Arabs,” and “bin Khalifa we will slaughter you,” were spray-painted near the facility.

Hundreds of fans attended the protests, bringing with them wads of fake cash to mock the Emirati investor’s wealth.

 

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