The Israeli FA and public opinion in the country have come down heavily against Beitar Jerusalem’s racist fans who reacted angrily to club owner Arkady Gaydamak’s decision to sign two Chechen Muslim players.
No Arab has ever played for Beitar and the only Muslim ever to play for the side, a Nigerian defender who arrived in 2004, left after two months.
Last Saturday, fans unfurled the banner “Beitar pure forever” and sang anti-Muslim chants in response to the planned signings. One fan from the La Familia ultras gang, identified as N, said: “We will burn down the club if they bring the Muslim players.”
However, Beitar manager Eli Cohen was forced to apologise after urging fans to distinguish between Arabs and European Muslims. The Israel FA closed the East Stand at Teddy Stadium — where the ultras congregate — for five matches and banned 50 fans from attending Tuesday night’s potentially explosive cup match when Beitar beat Arab side Maccabi Umm El Fahm 5-0.
Beitar fan and Knesset speaker Ruby Rivlin said: “How would we feel if an English or German team refused to have a Jew in the side?” Another fan, former prime minister Ehud Olmert, said he was disgusted by the racism and would no longer attend games.
The Chechen players were due in Israel ahead of the closing of the transfer window last night.