Liberal buys right-wing Betar

By Simon Griver, July 21, 2011

Betar Jerusalem, notorious for its right-wing football fans, has been bought by left-leaning US businessman Dan Adler, together with fellow investor Adam Levin.

Mr Adler, a former vice-president at Disney, is known for his liberal views. In May he unsuccessfully campaigned to become a Democrat congressman for a California district. In his campaign he stressed minority rights and the fact that his wife is Korean.

The LA-based businessman flew to Israel after buying the club in London last week and initially his statements seemed designed to antagonise the fans. Mr Adler said: "We will change the character of the fans. Jerusalem is a city in which all types of people live."

A spokesman for La Familia, the hard core of Betar fans, said: "We welcome the new owners, provided buying an Arab player is not on the agenda."

After several days in Jerusalem, Mr Adler and Mr Levin struck a more conciliatory tone. Former goalkeeper Itzik Kornfein was kept as chairman and David Amsalem, a former Crystal Palace defender and long-time Betar stalwart, was appointed manager.

Having run several laps with the players at Betar's training ground, Mr Adler sidestepped questions about whether he plans to buy the club's first-ever Arab player: "The manager will choose what players to sign. We feel honoured to play a part in the great history of Jerusalem and the club."

Founded in 1936 by the Betar youth movement, the club has always been associated with the right. The entire Likud leadership, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, regularly attend home games. The club was acquired by Russian Jewish businessman Arcady Gaydamak in 2005 and won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007, but has fallen on hard times since Mr Gaydamak's business empire collapsed in the global financial crisis.

Mr Adler and Mr Levin, who own a media consultancy firm, will receive the club for free by taking on its debt of several million dollars and providing next season's budget of $10 million.

They insist they are taking on Betar for Zionist philanthropic reasons and their love of Jerusalem, rather than as a political move or a way to access further business opportunities.

However, Mr Adler's comment that "I have no interest in Israeli politics", sounds disingenuous for a man who for many years sat on the board of Israel Policy Forum, which promotes a two-state solution.

Betar Jerusalem has been censured many times over racist incidents involving its fans. It remains to be seen how the new owners will react to any recurrence of such behaviour.

Last updated: 2:46pm, July 21 2011