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Muslim makes Israeli football debut

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 10, 2013 at 3:43 pm •  Published: February 10, 2013

Most of the ire has been directed toward general manager Itzik Kornfein, a former Beitar goalkeeping great who has spoken out forcefully against racism. "La Familia" members often curse at him outside team practices and some have even attempted to attack him physically.

Following Friday's firebombing attack, Kornfein said he feared for his life.

Four members of the group were charged with anti-Muslim chanting and most were prevented from entering the game.

Their typical stronghold in the eastern wing was empty — punishment the team received for one of the wayward fans' previous outbursts.

Still, not all those at the stadium were pleased with the new arrivals.

Tal Moyal, a hardcore 22-year-old fan who insists he was not a "La Familia" member, said the current battle was a "war over the principles of the team."

"As far as most of the fans are concerned, a Muslim is a terrorist," he said. "We are the capital of Israel. This team is a symbol. Muslims can't wear our uniforms."

"La Familia" was created in 2005, and it quickly became the team's loudest and most visible supporters. The fans routinely wave huge flags of the outlawed racist Kach party and chant racist slogans toward Arab players.

Their behavior has drawn a cascade of condemnations from Israel's president on down.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened his weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday with a call for fans to reject racism.

"The last thing we want, and which we absolutely reject is violence, racism and boycotts. These are unacceptable to us. I say this in regards to a team that I have supported for years, Beitar Jerusalem," Netanyahu said. "Lately, we have seen displays of extremism that we find unacceptable. These must be uprooted from the public sphere and, of course, from the world of sports."

Beitar Jerusalem, which has won six league championships and seven cup titles in its 77-year history, is a powerhouse in Israeli soccer and has a legendary following that includes several Israeli prime ministers.

The team has historically been strongly aligned with Israel's nationalist right wing and its name, Beitar, comes from the Zionist youth movement that is linked to the ruling Likud Party.

The team and its fans have since been a steady source of support for Likud politics and a string of politicians have served as team chairman. Prime ministers with Likud roots — from Ariel Sharon to Ehud Olmert to Netanyahu — have called themselves fans and made pilgrimages to the club's Teddy Stadium.

Olmert recently said he would stop attending games because of the fans' racism. On Sunday, he joined other top Israeli officials, former players and notable fans of Beitar in signing a petition against racism that was published in Israel's main newspapers.


Follow Heller on Twitter (at)aronhellerap