(Beitar Jerusalem’s far-right fans with banners in support of their ‘pure’ club. Photo Credit: AFP)
(Beitar Jerusalem’s far-right fans with banners in support of their ‘pure’ club. Photo Credit: AFP)

It’s not often that a club gets to break 77 years of strongly preserved history, but 19-yr-old Dzhabrail Kadiev playing his first game on Sunday, did that and much more.

By playing for merely 10 minutes, he gave Jerusalem — in the stadium and outside of it — a lot to ponder about. But with any change comes unpredictability as well as opportunity. In the case of Beitar Jersusalem, a club that has held its pride in the fact that it is the only club that has not had an Arab player, the case is beyond changeability. Certain hardliner fans of the club, known as the La Familia, had openly displayed their perspective on positivity based on previously created distortions and their versions of “truths.”

Since word leaked out that owner Arcadi Gaydamak was in talks with Russian side Terek Grozny to bring across two young players to the Teddy stadium, the Ultra/hooligans/La Familia (however you would want to refer to them as) had shown their displeasure.

In a league game against Bnei Yehuda late last month, fans exhibited a massive banner reading “Beitar pure forever”, with three fans accused of chanting racist slurs including “death to Arabs” and “burn their villages”.

The incident led to the club being disciplined and ordered closure of the Stadium’s 7,000-seat eastern grandstand, home stand to the La Familia, for five games. They were also handed a fine of 50,000 shekels ($13,500).

A fourth was charged for a similar offense after he turned up with dozen more fans at the training grounds of the club on January 31st to disrupt the two Muslim recruit’s first training session with the team.

He wore a shirt scribed racist caricatures with “L.F. Death to Muhammad. 100% opposed.” while waving a banner with a picture of former Nigerian Muslim member of the team (Ndala Ibrahim) and a statement from him “I wouldn’t recommend for a Muslim to join Betar. The extremists won’t change.” (In 2005, Ndala was the first Muslim to join the club though he only lasted for a very short period).

All four were indicted last Thursday.

The next day, Beitar’s main clubhouse was torched destroying valuable trophies and memorabilia. Officials are yet to figure out who the main perpetrators were.

Finally on Sunday, at the start of a “bust-up-guaranteed” game against their fierce rivals, Arab-Israeli side Bnei Sakhnin, 15 people were arrested for voicing their concerns – racially. Nine of them being fans of Sakhnin and 6 from Beitar. The same day that saw Kadiev wearing the Menorah crest of Beitar for the first time on the pitch.

So when will this all end?

Of course, a lot more slogging is required to get rid of this hatred. The six time league winners and a stronghold of Israel’s partisan right wing Likud party, is the only team in the Israel’s Ligat Ha’Al who had never signed an Arab player due to pure fan pressure. 

Change idealists recognize that change is good, that it allows them to develop, and that something healthier is in the making. A few Beitar fans realized it as it was visible at the sight of them standing and clapping for the 19-yr-old defender as he stepped in. But soon afterwards, the fervor was crushed by the jeers of the larger crowd on every touch Kadiev had on the ball.

But one of Gaydamak’s greatest legacies might be the stance he has currently set by bringing in the two players from a different religious background, and at the end of the day allowing sunlight in the dark chauvinistic corners of the Teddy stadium.

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