Last week, our esteemed senior writer Liel Leibovitz issued a plea that fans of Beitar Jerusalem, the Israeli football club with a fan base teeming with notoriously racist and violent hooligans, take back their team instead of boycotting it or abandoning it.
The team recently recruited two Muslim players from Chechnya to (in theory) help combat its negative image. This maneuver ultimately made the team’s public black eye even worse when fans started hurling racist epithets at games. Liebovitz wrote:
Rather than abandon the team and leave it with few fans but the fanatics, I hope to see more diehard Beitar followers pack its stadium and counter La Famiglia’s viciousness with humor and creativity. For every violent call to genocide they compose, let’s write wittier, peaceful ditties. True, there’s not much that rhymes with “Muslim” or with “Chechnya,” but we shall overcome. And rather than exhaust itself in endless war against La Famiglia, Beitar should find better ways to attract new fans. It should not focus on what it’s not—not racist, not hateful, not violent—but on what it is. And what it is, what it has always been, and what I deeply believe it will always remain, is a fine, fine soccer team.
Well, as news today from Israel shows, it seems as if the plea hasn’t quite reached its intended audience yet. That’s not to say that the arc of history isn’t long, but sometimes it bends toward arson. In this case, the Beitar offices suffered.
Beitar headquarters were set on fire at 5 a.m. Friday, according to the police, destroying the team’s trophies, commemorative jerseys of former stars, championship flags, photographs and books. “All the history of Beitar Jerusalem,” said the team spokesman, Asaf Shaked. “It’s not damage by money, it’s damage by emotion.”
The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, also condemned the violence on Friday, likening the perpetrators to the mafia. Limor Livnat, Israel’s minister of culture and sport, said she would attend Sunday’s game to show support for the team’s management.
Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said a special investigative team was looking into the arson, which he said “gushed through the offices,” and that the police would not only send hundreds of extra officers to Sunday’s game, but seek to arrest troublemakers beforehand.
Related: Fighting Soccer’s Barbarians