To Prevent Aggression Off The Pitch, Jerusalem Takes Aim At Teams' Purses : Parallels City officials are getting tough on the soccer field — by cracking down on fan behavior, especially anti-Arab actions. If fans are racist or violent, the teams they support will pay the price.
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To Prevent Aggression Off The Pitch, Jerusalem Takes Aim At Teams' Purses

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To Prevent Aggression Off The Pitch, Jerusalem Takes Aim At Teams' Purses

To Prevent Aggression Off The Pitch, Jerusalem Takes Aim At Teams' Purses

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/447238897/447796771" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We spent much of this program talking at the violence besieging many countries. Now we turn to Israel, where security forces are struggling to contain a recent wave of violence between Israelis and Palestinians that has killed more than 20 people in recent weeks. Related violence has also swept the Arab Israeli towns. Twenty percent of Israeli citizens are Arab. NPR's Emily Harris has this story from Jerusalem about how these frictions are playing out in everyday life, even on the soccer field.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: The city of Jerusalem says there's a problem with pro soccer. Too many Israeli fans of the country's most popular team, Beitar Jerusalem, exhibit racist and violent behavior, especially toward Israel's Arab fans and players. City officials also have a solution - take city funding away from teams associated with such behavior.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).

HARRIS: Beitar Jerusalem's fan club is an aggressive group. At a recent game, leaders warned me several times that they sometimes beat up reporters who ask them questions. Their cheering section have a lot of 20-something man, but also some teens and younger kids with their dads. Sixteen-year-old Itai Ben Avi was one of the few who agreed to talk. He said he's disappointed with the city's plan, which could take hundreds of thousands of dollars from a team.

ITAI BEN AVI: (Through interpreter) It's sad that they're going to try to take funding from us, and they're probably going to try to force us to hire an Arab player. Every country has their racist team, so it's easy to label us, but it's not true.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).

HARRIS: But the racist reputation of Beitar fans goes beyond soccer. Last week, with violence rising in Jerusalem, many marched through city streets, shouting death to Arabs, which they also shout at games. The fan club calls itself La Familia. Like at games, here, too, members were suspicious of the media. Yossi, a young man who refused to give his last name, said La Familia stands for Israel. A friend with him called it sad that a sports group was the one to organize this march.

Beitar is the only major league soccer team in Israel that has never hired an Arab player, even as their numbers grow on other teams. Beitar's owner didn't answer our requests for comment. Last season, referees cited Beitar with more incidents of fans making racial taunts than the rest of the league teams combined. Jerusalem city councilmember Hanan Rubin sponsored the bill to make public funds for sports teams contingent on fan behavior. He says Beitar fans are so aggressive, no one wants to stop them.

HANAN RUBIN: Not the team and not the owners and not anyone else, so we have decided to do it ourselves. We're not letting more of this shaming to the city of Jerusalem.

HARRIS: Khalid Khalaliya captains a team from an Arab town in Israel which has Jewish players. He says on most teams, players get along just fine, but he's heard plenty of insults from Beitar fans.

KHALID KHALALIYA: (Through interpreter) They say a lot of racist things. They've called me a terrorist by name. That just makes me want to play better and win the game.

HARRIS: He likes Jerusalem's plan to take away funding as a way to improve fan behavior, but his team's spokesman, Munthir Khalaya, does not.

MUNTHIR KHALAYA: (Through interpreter) That kind of such a punishment won't change the behavior of the fans, but any financial punishment will weaken the team.

HARRIS: So how do you change racist behavior? A relatively new Jerusalem soccer team thinks it has an answer. Hapoel Katamon Jerusalem is owned by its fans. Manager Shai Aharon says the team's youth program regularly brings Arab and Jewish kids together.

SHAI AHARON: Not to tournament against each other. We make mixed trainings to make them be together, not one against each other.

HARRIS: It's very difficult to make an impact, he says, but he's just trying for a little bit of change.

AHARON: We are not trying to change the world. We just want not to feel like we feel in the last days, you know?

HARRIS: These recent days with all the violence?

AHARON: Yeah. Yeah, that's all.

HARRIS: How do you feel during these days?

AHARON: Sucks.

HARRIS: It sucks, he says, and he has felt afraid when he's out with his own children.

AHARON: In the mall, going to the car, I look over my shoulder. Why? Why should I feel like this?

HARRIS: The first budget cuts from Jerusalem against racist or violent teams will begin when the behavior tallies are in for this season. Whatever change that makes will be measured against the backdrop of the larger conflict. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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