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January 23, 2021
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Banking on hate: Emirati royal to buy stakes in Israel’s ‘most racist team’ Beitar Jerusalem

ABU DHABI, UAE: Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Nahyan, an Emirati royal, is set to invest $100 million in the Israeli soccer team Beitar Jerusalem. The team is infamous in Israel for having fans who have consistently targeted Muslim players and chanted anti-Arab abuse.

Nahyan will be purchasing about a 50% stake of Israeli Premier League football club Beitar Jerusalem.

The club’s owner Moshe Hogeg travelled to Dubai on Thursday along with the club’s CEO Moni Brosh and chairman Eli Ohana to meet with the Emirati royal.

The reportedly $100 million deal is being brokered by Naum Koen, an Israeli businessman based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who heads the holding company NY Koen Group.

“It looks good and is progressing, and my goals and Hamad bin Khalifa al Nahyan’s goals are mutual. Let’s not rush it, we will arrive there and hold negotiations,” Hogeg said.

Negotiations had begun as early as September, only days before the UAE, Bahrain and Israel signed their normalisation agreements.

Hogeg hopes that an agreement will be reached by the end of the year.

If it goes through, it will mark the most significant deal signed between Israeli and Emirati parties to date.

What might raise eyebrows about the deal isn’t necessarily the business aspect of it – Gulf royals have bought stakes in a number of football teams over the years – but the team and its chequered history of racism.

In an interview to a news channel, Hogeg hinted the motivation behind the partnership was the idea of owning a team in Jerusalem.

“It is the holiest place in the world, not only for Jewish [people] but also for Muslims and Christians and he [Nahyan] heard about the club fighting racism and we want to be part of that.”

While Hogeg, who bought the team two years ago, contends the club is “fighting racism,” the black cloud that hangs over the club – past and present – paints an ugly picture.

The idea of an Arab holding a stake in a club long known for its rabid anti-Arab and anti-Muslim supporters would be an irony lost on no one.

“It looks good and is progressing, and my goals and [Hamad bin Khalifa al Nahyan’s] goals are mutual. Let’s not rush it, we will arrive there and hold negotiations,” Hogeg said.

Negotiations had begun as early as September, only days before the UAE, Bahrain and Israel signed their normalisation agreements.

Hogeg voiced hope that an agreement will be reached by the end of the year.

If it goes through, it will mark the most significant deal signed between Israeli and Emirati parties to date.

What might raise eyebrows about the deal isn’t necessarily the business aspect of it – Gulf royals have bought stakes in a number of football teams over the years – but the team and its chequered history of racism.

The idea of an Arab holding a stake in a club long known for its rabid anti-Arab and anti-Muslim supporters would be an irony lost on no one.

On January 27, 2013, a Jerusalem football team was in turmoil on Sunday after some fans lashed out at the owner’s plan to sign two Muslim players, insisting the club would remain “pure” and causing uproar during a weekend game.

Israeli media reported on Saturday that Arkady Gaydamak, the Russian-Israeli owner of Beitar Jerusalem, had decided to sign two Chechen footballers from Russian team Terek Grozny. During a game that day, some fans chanted slogans such as “no Arab will tread here” and waved a huge banner reading “Beitar – pure forever.”


They also cursed Gaydamak, though reports said some fans tried to shout them down.

Beitar has earned a reputation for a hardcore of anti-Arab fans, with many of their supporters insistent that the team should never hire an Arab player, and the club has been punished in the past for the behaviour of their fans.

Last March, 16 Beitar supporters were arrested after they surged into a mall following a football match, screaming “Death to Arabs!”

Israeli media reported that footage of the incident showed the fans spitting on Arab women in the mall and then assaulting Arab men who tried to intervene.

Beitar was established in 1936 as part of the national Israeli movement, and what sets it apart from other Israeli clubs is how its ideology and politics remain an essential part of its DNA.

Beitar fans are often identified with the radical right-wing Revisionist Movement and its successor parties like the Likud Party. Likud leader and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are known to be a very vocal supporter of the club.

Beitar is also closely associated with Irgun, a Zionist paramilitary group that operated in Palestine between 1931 and 1949, and several players were members of the group and Lehi, another paramilitary organisation, also known as the Stern Gang.

By the 1990s a malignant form of extremist hooliganism began to grip a very vocal contingent of Beitar’s support that injected it with hard-line nationalist and jingoistic sentiment that continues to pervade till today.

Many Beitar followers who were fed up with the racism and xenophobia of their fellow supporters have detached themselves from Beitar to form a new club called Beitar Nordia in 2014.