Alleging racism, Palestinians seek to have Israel suspended from world soccer

Wed May 27, 2015 2:09am EDT
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By Ori Lewis and Luke Baker

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Dressed in the black and yellow of Beitar Jerusalem soccer team and holding aloft banners reading "Pure Forever" and "Beitar Good For The Jews", La Familia is Israel's most notorious soccer gang, denounced by the club they purport to support.

As the Palestine Football Association (PFA) pushes ahead with a vote at FIFA this Friday calling for Israel to be suspended from world soccer's governing body, the behavior of some Beitar Jerusalem fans is at the heart of the PFA complaint.

"Racism in Israeli football has become part of the culture," said Jibril Rajoub, chairman of the PFA, arguing the case for Israel's suspension from international team and club competitions.

Those on the other side of the argument note that Arabs, who make up 20 percent of Israel's population, have played for every team in Israel's professional soccer league with the exception of Beitar Jerusalem, and to high acclaim for the national squad.

But it is Beitar, and La Familia, that have become synonymous with Palestinian accusations of racism.

While not dismissing the problem, Israel's soccer association points out that racism is a scourge in soccer in many other countries, from the top flight in England, Spain and Italy to smaller clubs in Russia and Brazil.

But when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, the debate takes on a political hue.

"You see antisemitic behavior around the world at football matches," said Rotem Kamer, the chief executive of the Israel Football Association (IFA), calling it unfair to single out Israel.   Continued...

Supporters of Beitar Jerusalem soccer club hold a banner reading "Beitar will always remain pure" during a Premier League match in Jerusalem January 26, 2013.  REUTERS/Stringer