Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

Fighting Soccer’s Barbarians

My beloved Beitar Jerusalem has some racist fans. Instead of abandoning the team, we should take it back.

Print Email
Fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team hold up a banner in Hebrew that reads “Beitar Pure Forever” during a match in Jerusalem on Jan. 26, 2012. (AFP/Getty Images)

Beitar Jerusalem, the iconic Israeli soccer team, gave one of its better performances of the season earlier this week, defeating Maccabi Umm al-Fahm 5-0, but almost none of the thousands in attendance were paying any attention. Most of the fans, along with hundreds of policemen, scores of security guards, plainclothes detectives, and the Israeli media, were watching the stadium’s eastern terrace, the haven of a small group of hardcore fans calling itself La Familia. Unabashedly racist, frequently violent, and unafraid of clashing with the team’s management, La Familia is costing Beitar dearly: The group’s deeply offensive chants have led the Israel Football Association to repeatedly fine Beitar tens of thousands of dollars, and Israeli public officials are calling on anyone from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, to step in and curb the hooligans.

Wary of riots, the team’s general manager, a beloved former Beitar goalkeeper named Itzik Kornfein, appealed to hold the game against Umm al-Fahm—most of whose players are Arab Israelis—in an empty stadium, prohibiting any spectator from entering, and hiring guards to prevent La Familia from sneaking in. It was an extreme step, and public pressure soon forced Kornfein to retract his proposal. Instead, he had the police issue restraining orders for several dozen of La Familia’s rowdiest members.

Kornfein’s measure was only a stopgap. The real battle will occur in the weeks to come, when Beitar is slated to welcome the first Muslim players in its history. Faced with the news, La Familia announced that since the racial purity of the team was at risk, they had no choice but to declare war against their beloved team.


It’s an almost comical thing, for dedicated fans to mobilize against their own team, but no one who has been following La Familia’s growth found any humor in their declaration. The group was founded in 2005. Back then, Beitar, though struggling, enjoyed a solid reputation as the unofficial team of the Likud, with Netanyahu, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and other party luminaries attending its games. By affiliation—Beitar was founded by the Revisionist Zionist group of the same name—the team was always associated with the right, but there was not much radical politics on display at its actual games. Occasionally, especially when playing the much-reviled team associated with the socialist left, Hapoel Tel Aviv, things would get heated. Sporadically, more overtly racist statements, like “death to the Arabs,” would be made. But, overall, Beitar’s fans were no better and no worse than those of any other team.

Slowly, that changed. In 2007, during a moment of silence to honor the slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, La Familia’s members stood up and started enthusiastically shouting the name of his assassin, Yigal Amir. Then, in a burst of twisted creativity, the group introduced an impressive canon of chants, each more vile than the next. “Baruch Goldstein is a dear,” went one of the popular ditties, referring to the Israeli settler who opened fire in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and killed 29 Palestinian worshipers praying there. “Yigal Amir, thank you very much. Every time an Arab gets killed is a festive day for me.”

Its membership rising—by most accounts, La Familia is currently 5,500 fans strong—the group became a de facto lobby and quickly began intervening in the team’s decision-making process. In 2009, faced with growing criticism of its fans’ racist behavior, Kornfein, the general manager, spearheaded a move to bring Abbas Suan, a star Israeli-Arab midfielder, to Beitar. La Familia objected. An Arab, they declared, should never be allowed to play for Beitar. Exerting pressure on the team’s management and players, they torpedoed the move.

At first, Beitar’s owner, the Russian-born oligarch Arkady Gaydamak, seemed to favor a policy of containment. A 2007 profile of Gaydamak’s right-hand man, Yossi Milstein, revealed that Milstein was in daily contact with La Familia’s leaders and in the habit of occasionally funneling funds to pay for what was described as “cheering accessories.” In return, Gaydamak and his men expected quiet.

But having named itself after the Italian mob, it was only a matter of time before La Familia made a move on its patron. Like the mafia movies that inspired them, their actions were now feats of operatic violence: In January of 2008, for example, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the offices of the soccer association. La Familia denied any knowledge of the attack, but the organization’s name was spray-painted everywhere on a nearby wall. Soon thereafter, the group took to beating—and, in one case, allegedly robbing at knife point—fans of opposing teams. They seized and brutalized a handful of Arab youth employed by Beitar as janitors. And in March of 2012, elated after a victory, more than 300 La Familia members filed into the Malha Mall, adjacent to Beitar’s stadium, started chanting “Muhammad is dead,” and then sought out and beat up any Arab Israeli they could find.

This was more than Gaydamak was willing to take. Drawing on his extensive business connections in the former Soviet republics, he reached out to Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya. Kadyrov is known both for his alleged involvement in human rights abuses and for his lavish lifestyle; in 2011, he celebrated his 35th birthday by flying in a bevy of Western celebrities, including action star Jean-Claude Van Damme and actress Hillary Swank. He is also the former president of Terek Grozny, the republic’s premiere soccer team. Gaydamak needed help: La Familia, he knew, would block any attempt to recruit an Israeli-Arab player, but a Chechen Muslim baller might pass, buying Beitar some desperately needed good will. Kadyrov’s proposed prospects were far from stellar, a 19-year-old defender with little experience, and a striker with a middling record. But if signed, they would set a precedent. Gaydamak returned from Grozny and announced the deal.

La Familia’s response was prompt. In last week’s game against Bnei Yehuda, the group took its usual place in the eastern terrace of Beitar’s stadium by giddily chanting, “We’re the country’s most racist team,” and then launched into a barrage of songs, most of which dealt with killing Arabs. As the match was reaching its peak, they unveiled an enormous homemade banner that read “Beitar will forever remain pure.” Their antics cost the team a $10,000 fine. In an effort to quell the conflict, Beitar’s coach, Eli Cohen, tried his hand at a bit of commentary. “We have no problem with Muslims,” he told the Israeli press. “We have a problem with Arabs. There’s a difference between a European Muslim and Muslims from the Middle East.” Needless to say, the statement did little to help the team appear more enlightened.

And while this week’s game against Umm al-Fahm, thanks mainly to massive security, proceeded without incident, some of Beitar’s most prominent fans, disgusted with La Familia’s antics, are publicly disavowing the team. Olmert, for example, wrote a widely discussed op-ed on Wednesday, announcing the he will no longer attend Beitar’s games until La Familia is stamped out. “If we do not remove these racists from our stadium and disconnect them from the team,” Olmert wrote, “we will be just like them. I will not be attending Beitar games until they are removed. I am sick and tired of being affiliated with the dark vulgarity of people who will never be a part of what Beitar is supposed to symbolize in sports and in Israeli society.”

I applaud Olmert’s sentiment but cannot bring myself to boycott Beitar. The thing is, I love that team, love it in an uncomplicated way, love it despite of its athletic shortcomings and its moral failings. I learned to love soccer on the eastern terrace, in the 1990s, and a big part of the attraction was the wild energy—then not nearly as odious as it is today—of the team’s most dedicated fans. And being a fan of Beitar also taught me that Frank Foer was right when he observed soccer’s canny capacity to preserve and cultivate nationalist pride while reining in actual tribal violence. As much as the goons of La Familia are injurious to my sensibilities, I am relieved to see that beyond the sporadic outburst here and there, the group has failed to join forces with any of the like-minded—and truly violent—radical right-wing organizations working in Israel today, such as the Kach movement or fringe settler groups like the hilltop youth. Instead, La Familia invests all of its considerable resources—manpower, cash, enthusiasm—in Beitar. And while their behavior is offensive, it is, taken in perspective, without much consequence.

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 Familia’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 Familia, 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.


Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

Poupic says:

This is true the chants are racists but they are only chants so far. On the other hand Molotov cocktails on Jews do not get the accusation of racism from you. Why is that?

    What are you talking about? Beitar fans ran riot through Malcha mall last year attacking Arab citizens at work or shopping. They beat up completely innocent people in brutal gangs. They also ran riot in Netanya.

      Poupic says:

      Read again what I wrote. Arabs throw Molotov cocktails on Jews. Was there a time that they were called racists too?

      Pip Power says:


      Islam’s Ancient Hatred For The Jews

      While Islam envisions the day when Christians and Jews will convert to Islam en masse, there is a distinction within Islam’s end time narrative between the final destiny of Christians and that of the Jews. In Islam’s version of the last-days, we see that all Christians will either accept Islam or be killed. Certainly, when we look at this final picture, it is impossible to say that Islam has any real affinity for Christians or Christianity. But when analyzing Islamic teaching and traditions about the Jews, one gets a very cold feeling that the only destiny that Islam has marked out for the Jews is that of an absolute and total slaughter. We see in the Islamic traditions a dark and very persistent hatred for the Jews nearly identical to the ideology expressed through Nazism. This ideology of hatred is fully supported and nurtured throughout the Quran and the Islamic traditions. For instance, speaking of Jews, the Quran says:

      Amongst them we (Allah) have placed enmity and hatred till the Day of Judgment. Every time they kindle the fire of war, Allah doth extinguish it; but they (ever) strive to do mischief on earth. And Allah loveth not those who do mischief. -Surah 5:64 (Yusuf Ali)

Hugh J says:

“Sporadically, more overtly racist statements, like “death to the Arabs,” would be made.”

First, I think sporting events should be free of extreme rhetoric and fan bashing pertaining to the personal attributes of others….

Having said that, when did ‘Arab’ or ‘Muslim’ become a race? One is a demographically assigned status and the other is a religion.

I know the word is thrown around so that the person using it is taken more seriously than they otherwise would be, but the serious nature of true racism becomes diminished when the word is carelessly tossed into every situation we don’t like.

    Pip Power says:

    Allah is the greatest.

    He who thanks Allah will be rewarded.Oh Allah, loosen your power and strength on the Jews. (Amen.)Please Allah, kill them all…And don’t leave any of them alive. (Amen.)Oh Allah, with your great power. Allah!We are asking you with your infinite power, dear Allah. Allah!Please dear Allah, take revenge for our martyrs’ blood. Allah!Please Allah, get rid of the Jews.Bring them down.They are not as powerful as you.Please Allah, make the earth shake and destroy the pillars of their civilisation.Please Allah, cast fear and terror into their hearts.Oh Allah disperse them so they become lost once again.Oh Allah, show us a sign.Oh Allah, surprise them in a way they don’t expect.Oh Allah, cast fear and terror into their hearts.


      Hugh J says:

      “Please Allah, kill them all…And don’t leave any of them alive.”

      Uhhh…that’s redundant. ESL classes not going so well?

        Pip Power says:



        Last week, the principal Palestinian Authority religious leader, the Mufti Muhammad Hussein, presented the killing of Jews by Muslims as a religious Islamic goal. At an event celebrating the 47th anniversary of the founding of Fatah, he cited the Hadith(Islamic tradition attributed to Muhammad) saying that the Hour of Resurrection will not come until Muslims fight the Jews and kill them:

        “The Hour [of Resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews.

        The Jew will hide behind stones or trees.

        Then the stones or trees will call:

        ‘Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill
        Palestinian Media Watch reported regularly during the PA
        terror campaign (Intifada, 2000-2005) on the repeated use of this Hadith by PA clerics on official PA TV to motivate Palestinians to terror attacks, preaching that Muslims had anIslamic obligation to kill Jews. The fact that the Mufti quotes this now indicates that this may have remained part of the PA’s religious establishment’s teachings, even though it is less frequently promoted on PA TV.

        The last time official PA TV broadcast a sermon during which this Hadith calling to kill Jews was quoted was in 2010.

        The years of PA promotion of killing Jews and PA religious leaders’ citing thisHadith to justify it, may have contributed to the high
        acceptance of it in PA society. A poll sponsored by the Israel Project last year found that 73% of Palestinians “believe” this Hadith. [July 2011, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.]

        The moderator who introduced the Mufti at the Fatah event last week reiterated another Islamic belief; that the Jews are the descendants of apes and pigs:

        “Our war with the descendants of the apes and pigs (i.e., Jews) is a
        war of religion and faith.”

        The Mufti did not distance himself from this hate statement that Islam is in a religious war with the Jews, but added to it that Islam’s
        goal is to kill Jews.

        There are numerous collections of Hadith, some of which are
        not accepted as reliable. However, the Mufti stressed that the Islamic belief that Jews will be killed by Muslims as a precursor to Resurrection, is an authentic Islamic belief because it appears in “the reliable” and trusted Hadith collections of Al-Bukhari and Muslim.

        This Islamic tradition asserts that as the killing of Jews will progress, Jews will hide behind stones and trees, but even they will expose the Jews and call out:

        “Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

        One tree however, called the Gharqad, will hide the Jews from
        the Muslims. The Mufti in his talk at the Fatah event claimed that in response to this Islamic belief, Israelis have been planting Gharqad trees around their cities and towns, in order to have a place to hide from the Muslims who will be coming to kill them.

        This is not the first time the Mufti has incited to hatred against Jews in the name of Islam. In a sermon at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in 2010,
        he preached that the Jews are the “enemies of Allah.”

        The Mufti is appointed by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. He voiced
        this latest hate speech, that Jews are to be killed by Muslims, at an official Fatah celebration. Abbas is also the Chairman of Fatah.

        The following is an excerpt from the Fatah ceremony broadcast on PA TV:

        Moderator at Fatah ceremony:

        “Our war with the descendants of the apes and pigs (i.e., Jews) is a
        war of religion and faith.

        Long Live Fatah! [I invite you,] our honorable Sheikh.”

        PA Mufti Muhammad Hussein comes to the podium and says:

        “47 years ago the [Fatah] revolution started. Which revolution? The
        modern revolution of the Palestinian people’s history. In fact, Palestine in its entirety is a revolution, since [Caliph] Umar came [to conquer Jerusalem, 637 CE], and continuing today, and until the End of Days. The reliable Hadith (tradition attributed to Muhammad), [found] in the two reliable collections, Bukhari and Muslim, says:

        “The Hour [of Resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews.

        The Jew will hide behind stones or trees.

        Then the stones or trees will call:

        ‘Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill

        Except the Gharqad tree [which will keep silent].”

        Therefore it is no wonder that you see Gharqad [trees]

        surrounding the [Israeli] settlements and colonies..”

for goodness’ sake – it’s only 22 idiots kicking a leather ball up and down a field!

    Pip Power says:



sidney51 says:

You can employ sophistry all you wish in order to rationalize your continued support of this team. As an Israeli, I say that anyone who supports Beitar is the equivalent of those persons in 20th century United States who elected not to oppose the Ku Klux Klan. How can any decent Israeli be associated with this team? The management has effectively given veto power to the ugliest element of Israeli society. And what of the terror at Malcha? I was there the next day. The Arabs feared for their lives. Beitar is the scum of Israel. For shame.

    Pip Power says:

    The Ku Kluk Klan was ALWAYS controlled by Jews!

    They used reverse psychology! They got brainless thugs to break tombstones or paint the door of synagogues, whenever Israel was being criticized by the media. That way they stopped the negative criticism & allowed Israel off the hook.

So if it’s ok for them to shout “Death to Arabs” you wouldn’t mind if they shouted “Death to Jews” then? It’s just a game after all, right? A bit of chanting never hurt anyone…

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

    Pip Power says:



Howard E Davis says:

As a jew living in America I had never heard of this situation vis a vis “barbaric” soccer fans but I am sorry to read about the depths of ignorance and hatred that my fellow jews are capable of. I understand that feelings “run deep” in Israel and it is all too easy to see “others” as the enemy but I’m inclined to support the view expressed by “sidney51″.

Pip Power says:

“La Famiglia is currently 5,500 fans strong—the group became a de facto lobby and quickly began intervening in the team’s decision-making process”.


Now you can see first hand how Jewish lobbies work!

They destroy everything that’s fair & decent & demand their own selfish ways!

Any criticism of La Famiglia will be deemed as ANTISEMITISM. lol

Israel has got to be the only country in the world where racist sports fans get international coverage, right?

Rich Ross says:

“We have a problem with Arabs. There’s a
difference between a European Muslim and Muslims from the Middle East.”
Needless to say, the statement did little to help the team appear more

Needless to say,only the most delusional of(take your pick)Liberals, Progressives, Leftists can fail to understand the implicit truth contained in Coach Cohen’s statement.

    There is no implicit truth at all. Cohen is ignorant. Arab Muslims play in almost all Israeli club teams and have played for the Israeli national team as well – starting with Jimmy Turk an Arab from Yaffo and dozens since then. Cohen is basically lying flat out and he knows it.

      Pip Power says:


      Amongst them we (Allah) have placed enmity and hatred till the Day of Judgment. Every time they kindle the fire of war, Allah doth extinguish it; but they (ever) strive to do mischief on earth. And Allah loveth not those who do mischief. -Surah 5:64 (Yusuf Ali)

      This verse makes it clear that there will be “enmity and hatred” against the Jews until the very end of the present age. So much for those who claim that the Quran’s scorn for Jews is limited only to specific historical incidences in Muhammad’s career. Not only does the Quran portray Jews as those who start wars and cause general mischief in the earth, but it also literally claims that Allah was so disgusted by the Jews, that he cursed them and literally transformed many of them into “apes and swine,” assigning them the lowest “rank” among humankind:

      When in their insolence they transgressed (all) prohibitions, We said to them: “Be ye apes, despised and rejected.” -Surah 7:166 (Yususf Ali)

      Those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath, those of whom some He transformed into apes and swine, those who worshipped evil;- these are (many times) worse in rank, and far more astray from the even path! -Surah 5:60 (Yusuf Ali)

      And well ye knew those amongst you who transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath: We said to them: “Be ye apes, despised and rejected.” -Surah 2:65 (Yusuf Ali)

      Among the more anti-Semitic and vocal Muslims, these verses have become absolute favorites. Walid Shoebat is a former Muslim who grew up in the Palestinian territories. Recalling being taken on a school trip to the Jerusalem zoo as a child, Walid relates, “The Islamic teacher would tell us, ‘this gorilla was originally a Jew.’ I look at this now and I think, this is what Naziism teaches – in its worst form. This is being taught throughout the entire Middle East.”1 Just as the Nazis declared that Jews were subhuman “vermin” in order to justify their inhumane treatment of the Jews, so has the Muslim world followed the lead of the Quran in dehumanizing the Jewish race.

      I wouldn’t allow my dog play with a Mohammedan!

PhillipNagle says:

Among sport fans, soccer fans are alone in their violence and stupidity, It amazes me how a sport so dull can arouse such passions.

this is upsetting on so many levels. “we have no problem with muslims. we have a problem with arabs” sounds like the “i don’t have a problem with jews- only zionists” garbage we deal with regularly. it is exactly the same and equally wrong. to support this team is to support bigotry and hatred. since fines do nothing to address the problem- perhaps banning beitar from competing would help?

It is refreshing to see the rare case when a Jewish person criticizes expressions of racism and other forms of bigotry from other Jews. In fact, I should take a picture. CLICK.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Fighting Soccer’s Barbarians

My beloved Beitar Jerusalem has some racist fans. Instead of abandoning the team, we should take it back.