Sickened fans set up a non-racist Beitar in Jerusalem


For years, even some of the most hardcore fans of Jerusalem's oldest football club, Beitar Jerusalem, have stopped attending its games, turned off by the racist rhetoric and violence of other supporters .

Even though many fans say that the club has been contaminated by an ultranationalist minority, some have decided to opt out and back a smaller, more "authentic" alternative.

Named after the original name for the club - acquired during the British mandate - Beitar Nordia aims to bring back what its fans believe is the true spirit of the game.

"The purpose is to build a new and clean 'house' from the ground up, for the Beitar fans who were fed up with the racism and violence," says 30-year-old Yuval Rubovitch, one of the unofficial founders of the team. Mr Rubovitch said that intensified anti-Arab rhetoric deterred many young families from bringing their children along.

The new Beitar Nordia club, owned directly by approximately 200 fans and with numbers expected to grow, is preparing for its second season.

‘We are building a clean “house” from the ground up’

Mr Rubovitch and the club's other founders were surprised to receive support from a broad range of disgruntled football fans, of different ages and from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

They include President Reuven Rivlin, who said that Beitar Nordia "brings back to life the heart and the soul that was once the essence of Beitar Jerusalem".

Mr Rivlin, like other Beitar Nordia members, are united against the new ultranationalist incarnation of Beitar Jerusalem, though they are nonetheless sentimental about its respected past.

Founded by right-wing Zionists, Beitar Jerusalem originally appealed to Sephardic immigrants from Arab countries who were the subject of discrimination from Israel's Ashkenazi elite.

It maintained a working-class character, and ultranationalism and violence were always kept on the sidelines.

In recent years, however, the club's ultranationalist "La Familia" fan group has grown in size and influence. They are widely believed to be the reason why the team has never fielded an Arab player - a rarity among the big teams in Israel. Flooding the stadium with calls for a "pure Beitar", they chant "death to Arabs", or "Muhammad is dead".

In July, during a match in Belgium against Charleroi, Beitar fans rioted and hoisted racist banners of the outlawed ultranationalist Kach party alongside Israeli flags. The game was delayed after the Beitar fans threw flares onto the pitch, and at the end of the match they threw an object that struck the Charleroi goalkeeper on the head. The team was fined by Uefa, and Beitar's owner threatened to quit.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the incident, saying: "We will not allow Beitar fans to hurt the image of the country." But such statements ring hollow among other Israeli football fans.

For those who have given up on Beitar Jerusalem, however, Beitar Nordia is an "answer", says Mr Rubovitch. The club has signed an Arab player and this year is expecting an Arab-Israeli manager, Salah Hasarma.

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