Reflections on Racism from Beitar Jerusalem vs. B’nei Sakhnin

I walked into Teddy stadium on Sunday night as the players from Beitar Jerusalem, my hometown team, were taking the field. The fans were serenading the squad with their customary welcoming chant:

“הנה היא עולה, הקבוצה הגזענית של המדינה”,

which can be roughly translated as “Here they come, the country’s racist team”. It was sung with particular relish on this occasion as the opponent was Israel’s most successful Arab team, Bnei Sakhnin, featuring mostly Israeli-Arab players.

This open acknowledgement kind of makes a mockery of the “No to racism, no more violence” banner that occasionally appeared on the screens in the stadium, and is so prominently displayed on the Beitar website.

To be fair, this particular pregame chant is probably meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I’m not at all sure to what extent.

The fan behavior didn’t get much better after that. As Sakhnin quickly went up 1-0 on a Shlomi Azulay (who, it so happens, is Jewish, and a former Beitar player) header, the crowd starting chanting “Muhammad is dead”, always a curious choice of insult as the content of this proposition is not, in fact, under dispute. Religious scholars Beitar fans ain’t.

The powers that be–represented by the voice emanating from Teddy’s horrific sound system–did their valiant best to stop these chants, drowning them out with garbled music and even threatening suspension of the match if they continue.

These measures availed the powers little, as the chants would inevitably start again minutes after they were drowned out by the music. I would estimate that the music tactic was used roughly 10 times throughout the match.

In the second half, as Sakhnin scored a controversial 2nd goal on a ball that probably didn’t cross the line, and then a 3rd some 20 minutes later (both again by Azulay), the tension became palpable. At this juncture the fans brought out the most vile of their chants: “מוות לערבים”, “death to the Arabs”. Cue frantic garbled music playing.

I want to first point out just how cowardly and pathetic it is to react in this way to your team being soundly beaten. It’s the opposite of everything that sportsmanship is supposed to be. I mean, come on guys, your team loses fair and square to an opponent who came into the most hostile sports environment imaginable and turned in an excellent performance, and your reaction is to throw a temper tantrum, or really to intensify your match-long temper tantrum. And this right before turning on your own players as you so often do, hurling verbal abuse and then physical objects at everyone on the field. Grow the hell up, Beitar fans, and have some respect for the game you claim to love so much.

But I do not write merely to rant in condemnation of the racist sentiment infecting the fan base of my local soccer team, but to express a reflection on the precise sources of this sentiment, and where I stand in relation to them.

Let me word this very carefully. While I strongly condemn the fans’ behavior, I suspect my reasons for this are of a somewhat more nuanced character than the standard “rah rah rah, no to hate” routine which would no doubt have been my reaction had I been, say, a Bernie Sanders supporter. This is because it seems to me that underneath all of the boorish bigotry exhibited by the common Beitar fan (scientific name: Beitarus Fanus Vulgaris), is an observation. An observation I don’t completely disagree with. I just think that the conclusions that he (or she?… nah. he.) draws from this observation are horribly wrong and misguided.

The observation I am referring to is that the main cause of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in Palestinian–and to some extent general Arab–culture. This is not a racist observation. It has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with culture. The same races have created and/or participated in radically different cultures at different times. Cultures can be adapted and fixed. The current state of Palestinian culture is not good. It is too infected with tribal corruption (ask the average West Bank resident about how fair and honest the PA is…), which creates bad conditions, which are then blamed squarely on the occupation due to another destructive cultural propensity, viz. glorification of victimhood (something that the Western left bears significant responsibility for), and good old tribal/religious Jew hatred, that most reliable of psychological presences.

The left-wing reader might call me a racist for writing and believing the content of the previous paragraph, but this is because the definition of racism has been expanded of late. Racism, to me, is the belief that a persons’ skin color and/or ethnic origins determine their behavior, and hence their worth. This racism is wrong and stupid. In the current discourse, however, it has come to mean attaching any predicate to any recognizable group of people. Saying that group of people X (whether it be a religious, social, or cultural group), taken generally, has tendency Y, is now considered taboo and “racist”. One is no longer allowed to notice general patterns, even cultural ones.

But this is absurd, and amounts to self-lobotomization. This would mean that it cannot be observed that Americans eat a lot of burgers or that Brazilians like soccer. Of course, no one objects to these statements because eating burgers or liking soccer are deemed to be innocuous. But if these general patterns can be observed to be true, based on the reliability of the individual observations and logic that lead to the conclusion, so can patterns that are negative. The unpleasantness or offensiveness of a proposition do not affect it’s truth value.

Noticing general patterns does not automatically make one a racist. However, and this is important, it can indirectly give rise to racism, when the general pattern is mindlessly applies to all individuals. Noticing that Arab culture as currently constituted produces threats to Israeli national security is not racist, but holding that against individual Arabs based solely on their ethnicity while ignoring available information about their personal behavior, is racist.

I can be clear-eyed and unapologetic about the threat posed to us by the dominant zeitgeist in the Arab world, and still not hold that against individual Arabs who haven’t done me any harm. The Sakhnin players haven’t done anything to me or anyone else. They just show up and play soccer, often really well. Individuals should be judged on their individual merits, not by the groups to which they belong, and as such I have absolutely no problem with Khaled Khalaila, Firas Mughrabi, Ali Othman, or any of the others.

Is it this failure to distinguish between general patterns and individual instances that is the cause of the behavior of the Betarus Fanus Vulgaris. I say this in partial defense of him, for though I find his conduct distasteful in the extreme (as I think I’m making abundantly clear), I think it’s based more on a lack of nuance in understanding than a basic visceral hate.

About the Author
Born in the US, made Aliyah at 3 years old. Going to Hebrew U to study law in October. Was in Yeshiva for 7 years. interested in basically everything. Aspiring writer, somewhat-more-than-amateur musician, armchair philosopher, and connoisseur of human folly (including, hopefully, my own).
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