Not even in the earliest days of Jackie Robinson’s 1947 historic debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers did Brooklyn’s white fans walk out after number 42 stole a base or hit a home run. The Brooklyn faithful’s love of “Dem Bums” trumped any racism that simmered in the stands. What does it say that sixty-six years later, Israeli fans of the soccer club Beitar Jerusalem have not evolved to postwar-Brooklyn standards of human decency?Most Americans and Canadians will be repelled by this blatant bigotry, and will condemn it. That certainly includes most US Jews. But how many of those North Americans will continue to support the roots of this bigotry?
Earlier this season, Beitar Jersulam broke their own version of the “color line” by signing the first two Muslim players in team history: Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev. Predictably, Beitar’s supporters were madder than the NRA in a school zone. Boos have rained down on Sadayev and Kadiyev every time they’ve taken the field or touched the ball. Several members of a team fan club flew a banner that read, “Beitar is pure forever.” Two others attempted to burn down the team offices. This pales, however, next to what happened when Sadayev scored his first goal for the team last week. After the striker found glory, hundreds of Beitar Jerusalem fans simply stood up and walked out. Even by soccer standards, where racism on the pitch is a continual plague, this organized nature of the action was shocking.
As one 19-year-old fan told The Independent, “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 said, “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."
Israel's racist policies of exclusion condone and enable this disgusting display. Indeed, it's not possible to build a society on racist policies and not see this kind of behaviour on the ground. Just like "whites only" signs and segregated public facilities throughout the Jim Crow US South enabled and condoned ugly, hateful acts by some white Americans, so do the racist policies of present-day Israel enable these hateful acts by Israeli soccer fans.
If this is wrong, the wall is wrong.
If this is wrong, the checkpoints are wrong.
If this is wrong, Jewish-only Israeli settlements in the West Bank are wrong.
If this is wrong, laws controlling the legal rights, movements, access to land, and civil liberties of Palestinian people - laws that do not apply to Israelis - are wrong.
How can you condemn these soccer fans and their desire for racial purity, yet continue to support Israeli apartheid?
Read Dave Zirin's full column here.
See also, my interview with a South African activist explaining why it is accurate to call the Israeli system of control of the Palestinian population apartheid, and why that apartheid is even more brutal than the system he grew up under in South Africa: "they didn't build a wall": is israel an apartheid state? a south african perspective: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.
See also, Dave Zirin: Killing Hope: Why Israel Targets Sports in Gaza