Beitar Jerusalem FC was established in 1938 as part of a national Israeli movement, with its politics and ideology being conducive to its identity as a club. The very identity of the club is that of nationalism, with the club receiving the backing and support of the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu who assumed his place in office in October 2009.
With a large following and backing from the political leaders of the country, Beitar Jerusalem fully embodies traditional, right-wing politics in Israel. Being situated in Jerusalem, a famously holy city whereby a troika of religions meet, it is made all the more shocking that for over 75 years the club never signed an Arab player on a long-term deal.
Altogether, they are simply a Jewish team in a Jewish state, with the supporters of the club holding this status in very high regard – excluding anyone who might oppose their political or religious view.
Beitar’s Chechen Muslim players
The supporters of the club have been known to chant, en masse ‘here we are, the most racist team in the country’. Given the geopolitical situation, with regards to the Jerusalem-Palestine conflict, the supporters have much disregard and hatred for those that practice Islam.
— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) August 4, 2016
So, when two Chechen Muslim players, Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiev, were recruited in 2013, that being first time the club had ever signed any player who were of the faith of Islam, the fans were quick to protest the move by the Beitar’s board.
Upon their reveal as Beitar Jerusalem players, the chairman of the club, Itzik Korefine, explained:
“it is part of the club’s DNA that players who come here are embraced with love, like our own family.”
However, the club’s fans felt much differently, with Beitar’s radical fans, known as ‘La Familia’ launching what came to be known as the most racist campaign Israeli football has ever known.
Fans would show up to training to express their overwhelming disdain for Sadayev and Kadiev, shouting profanities and otherwise racist insults their way, disregarding their value to the club, making it very clear that they would not be welcomed by the fans.
Since joining the club, the two Chechen Muslim players were escorted by bodyguards to ensure their safety from attacks and abuse from those that opposed their presence at the club.
The exodus of Teddy Stadium
It was the match against Maccabi Netanya whereby the extent of La Familia’s hatred would become fully known. For the duration of the match at the Teddy Stadium members of the Beitar fan group hurled abuse at the owner of the club and constantly jeered Sadayev whenever he touched the ball, although that wasn’t the end of it.
When the then-23-year-old striker latched onto a through ball and slotted the ball past the Netanya goalkeeper with immense composure for someone so massively berated by his own fans.
A debut goal would be a momentous occasion for any footballer – the Beitar players celebrated with him, as did some of the more progressive fans, however, those in the La Familia stand behind the goal reacted in a different manner, vacating the stadium in protest of their heritage and legacy being disparaged in their eyes.
Speaking to the Independent, 19-year-old Jerusalem fan, Akeeva, explained his views on Muslim players wearing the colours of Beitar, saying:
“The reaction to the Muslim players being here is not racist, but the club’s existence is under threat. Beitar is a symbol for the whole country.”
Another fan, Jacob, agreed with Akeeva’s sentiments:
“It’s just a matter of being Arab [Muslim],” he explained. “It’s not racism, they just shouldn’t be here. Beitar Jerusalem has always been a clean club, but now it’s being destroyed – many of the other players are thinking of leaving because of the Muslim players being here.”
After Sadayev and Kadiev failed to find their place in the Beitar side, with fans continuously protesting their presence at the club, both players returned to playing football in Chechnya after the 2012/13 campaign finished, perhaps for the benefit of all parties involved as the boycott, led by La Familia, left the Teddy Stadium vacant throughout the Muslim player’s tenure.
Present day form
Following the end of the turbulent 2012/13 campaign, Beitar have failed to finish anywhere above third place in the Israeli Premier League, earning passage to the Europa League qualifying rounds, yet never progressing to the group stages.
And after going through 10 managers in the space of four seasons, Beitar are yet to find the success that rivals Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Be’er Sheva have enjoyed. However, they have made an impressive start to the 2017/18 season, picking up 14 points from their first seven games, leaving them in second, three points behind Hapoel Haifa.
While Beitar sit second in the league they have the most prolific goal scoring record in the league this season, notching 19 goals. Idan Vered is leading the way, contributing four goals, while three other players currently sit on three goals, including former Liverpool, Chelsea and West Ham United player, Yossi Benayoun.
While Beitar have worked to start integrating a foreign contingent of players, with six of their 25 first-team players born outside of Israel, the overwhelming majority of their side is of Israeli nationality.
Although Beitar have seen a promising start to the new season, they have a long way to go to continue their reign at the top of Ligat Ha’al.
It remains to be seen as to whether extremist fans will continue to influence the board and see the club ostracise those who subvert their ingrained beliefs, and perhaps, if they continue to do so, Beitar may never be able to grow and evolve as a club.