Israeli Soccer Team, Infamous for Anti-Arab Fans, Has New Co-Owner: a Sheikh

Israeli liberals skeptical about the country’s normalization deals nonetheless found reason to cheer the conspicuous twist of the new alliance.

“The sale of Beitar to the Arabs is the clearest sign that God exists,” Noa Landau, the diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz, wrote on Twitter.

Many Arab commentators jeered, however.

Saied Hasnen, a sports radio host, called the deal “shameful.” He said that he opposed any Arab normalization of Israel, but particularly lamented the sheikh’s decision to go into business with Beitar, calling the team and its supporters “a sinful and dirty swamp of racists who hate Arabs — the worst people in society.”

Khalid Dokhi, the director-general of Bnei Sakhnin, Israel’s most successful Arab club, expressed mixed feelings. “If it leads to a change in the racist culture, that would be beneficial,” said Mr. Dokhi, whose team plays in an Arab city. “But if it doesn’t, it’s a waste of money.”

Sheikh Hamad’s investment appears to be to a giant leap forward in what has been a long and often tempestuous struggle by several team owners to tame Beitar Jerusalem’s ultra-right-wing fan base.

While other clubs have long fielded Jewish and Arab players, who regularly play together for the Israeli national soccer team, Beitar’s far-right supporters’ group, La Familia, agitated against such a move, sometimes violently. The club has regularly been fined and handed stadium bans for violent behavior as well as racist chants.

A Nigerian Muslim who joined the team in 2004 was regularly harassed and quit after less than a year. In 2005, La Familia protested over reports that Beitar might sign Abbas Suan, an Israeli-Arab who starred for Bnei Sakhnin. When he scored a vital goal for Israel in a World Cup qualification match against Ireland, Beitar supporters held up a banner saying, “Abbas Suan, you do not represent us.”

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