Media, Politicians Gang Up on Soccer League
by Hillel Fendel
(IsraelNN.com) Journalists and left-wing politicians kept the "Rabin festival" going for yet another day, ganging up against the Israeli Soccer Association for meting out "too light" of a punishment to fans who jeered during a "moment of silence" for Rabin.
At the Sunday night soccer game between Beitar Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa, hundreds of fans jeered, booed and sang songs of support for Yigal Amir during what was supposed to be a "minute of silence" for Yitzchak Rabin on the 12th anniversary of his murder. MK Ophir Pines (Labor) was the first to jump, saying the Soccer League must condemn and punish the team for its fans' actions.Monday and Tuesday saw many politicians and journalists condemning the incident, lamenting the lack of supervision over the fans, and demanding measures to punish the fans who thus expressed their opinion.
Some fans later explained that they simply do not remember Rabin fondly, blaming him for giving weapons to terrorists and initiating the Oslo process. "It offends me when they remember Rabin for two weeks each year," one fan said, "but never remember the 1,400 people who were murdered or 20,000 who were wounded because of the Olso process."
On Wednesday night, three judges of the Israel Soccer League court convened, and on Thursday they handed down the decision: Beitar must play two home games with no fans allowed, and pay an as-yet unspecified fine. In addition, it will have to play two additional fan-less home games if the offense is repeated.
The decision was taken by a vote of 2-1; the dissenting judge ruled that the approach to take should not be punitive, but rather by employing educational measures and encouraging public denunciation.
Outside the court hearing, some fans held signs noting that when the fans of the Arab team from Sakhnin once booed and hissed and held Hamas flags during the singing of Israel's national anthem, it was considered "freedom of speech" and no sanctions were imposed.
Education Minister Yuli Tamir said she was "disappointed and infuriated," saying, "It is scandalous to let Beitar Jerusalem off with such a light punishment. Of course, every problem of behavior has an educational aspect, but here the real response should have been a punishment that will really deter. There also should have been an appropriate response by the team, which has evaded its responsibility... With such light punishments, no one should be surprised when these incidents repeat themselves."
Team owner Arcadi Gaydamak refused to take responsibility for the fans' actions.
"To my great sorrow," said MK Eitan Cabel (Labor), "the problem of incitement and racism at the soccer fields is not really being dealt with. Without a firm and systematic plan of action, Israeli society will continue to be harmed by a vocal riffraff, and being present in the stands at a soccer game will be unsuitable for a proper society."
The Chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, MK Rabbi Michael Melchior (Labor) said, "The phenomenon that we saw was disgusting and revolting, but I am not sure that punishment without educational activity will work."
Long-time fan Nissim Shalem said, "The team does not deserve a punishment, which was designed merely to appease the left-wing and the media." He said that politics and sports should not have been mixed: "Rabin was a great leader, but memorials should be done in other places, and not on soccer fields where people come to scream and let it all out."
Anat Davidov's Campaign
Government-owned Voice of Israel Radio's news channel took an overtly one-sided approach, practically demanding that the punishment be increased. Afternoon newsmagazine anchor Anat Davidov was outspoken in her tone and words against the lightness of the punishment.
Introducing her interview with Beitar Director-General Itzik Kornfein, she said twice that Beitar had "gotten off very lightly from this disgrace." She later asked him, "Aren't you ashamed of yourself?", in the sarcastic tone of one who has caught someone lying or stealing. He countered, "Aren’t you ashamed? They are citizens of Israel." Davidov, raising her voice, said, "I'm ashamed in general of their behavior, but I'm asking you as an intelligent man about these fans who are disgracing most of your fans."
Kornfein said, "To act as if the owners of Beitar Jerusalem are in charge of educating the citizens of Israel - because that's what they are - is simply not dealing with the problem... Why doesn't the press talk about other incidents of wild behavior of fans?..."
Kornfein said he would appeal the League's ruling, and the sports correspondent later interrupted to confirm that though individual players cannot appeal decisions, a team can appeal. At that point, Davidov said, "Let them appeal; maybe they'll get a stronger punishment."
When Kornfein said there was no reason to have placed his team on trial, Davidov interrupted to say sarcastically, "No reason at all, truly nothing."
Kornfein said, "You are all ignoring the main problem, which is education. We don't have contact with these people all day long; we see them for an hour and a half every week or two..."
The next interviewee was left-wing MK Avshalom Vilan (Meretz), with whom Davidov continued to take a mocking tone regarding Kornfein's position. Vilan, who heads a task force against sports violence, complained that the punishment was a poor joke, while admitting that there was no legal basis for any punishment at all.
A complaint has been submitted to the Complaints Commissioner of the Israel Broadcasting Authority regarding Davidov's performance.
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