The offices of the Israeli soccer team Beitar Jerusalem was set on fire on Friday as an act of protest against the team’s two new Muslim players from Chechnya. While one player is injured, the other is slated to play his first game with the team on Sunday against the Arab-Israeli town Sakhnin.
The incident is the latest in a series of actions by anti-Arab fans of the soccer team. At a late January game, three fans were arrested for displaying a banner declaring “Beitar will be pure forever.” And in March, 2012, hundreds of Beitar Jerusalem fans chanting anti-Arab slogans assaulted Arab workers at a Jerusalem mall following a game leading to 16 arrests.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the arson attack. However, according to the New York Times, the team has long been linked to Netanyahu’s Likud Party.
A spokesman for the club said the team hopes to put the racist incidents behind them. “I hope that from this Sunday we’re going to start a new way for the club,” he told the Times. “We call that ‘The New Beitar.’ This is the slogan of the club now: a different Beitar, a new Beitar.”
Assaf Evers, a fire department spokesman, was quoted by Ynet as saying that the fire was set deliberately early Friday morning.
No one was hurt in the fire, but the club’s trophy room and the office of property caretaker Meir Harush were heavily damaged. “The history of Beitar has gone up in flames,” Harush told the news site NRG.
The attack followed the indictments of four Betar Jerusalem fans suspected of incitement against Arabs and Muslims.
On Jan. 26, the indictment said, the four men, all in their 20s, called “death to the Arabs” while watching a soccer game from the bleachers. One of them is also charged with shouting: “Burn their village.”
The alleged hate speech may have been directed at Dzhabrail Kadiyev and Zaur Sadayev – two Muslim Chechen players who recently joined the Jerusalem team. Betar is the name of a Zionist youth movement.
On Thursday, 20 representatives of Betar World Zionist youth movement gave Sadayev and Kadiyev flowers to show their appreciation for their joining the team.
Referring to the racist chants, Itzik Cornfein, the soccer club’s chairman, said on Thursday: “We want to see a different, changed Betar.”