Mustafa Abu Sneineh
Middle East Eye / December 7, 2020
Fans greet news of $92m sale with the words ‘fuck Dubai’ spray-painted on the wall of team’s stadium.
Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, on Monday took a stake of around 50 percent in Israeli football club Beitar Jerusalem, whose fans are known for racist chants against Arabs and Muslims.
The deal was sealed for a 300m shekel (almost $92m) investment over a 10-year period, and was brokered by Naum Koen, a Ukrainian-born Israeli businessman based in the United Arab Emirates.
The first reports of a potential deal appeared in September, just days before the UAE, Bahrain and Israel signed an agreement normalising ties in Washington.
Beitar’s owner Moshe Hogeg travelled to Dubai on 3 December along with the club’s CEO Moni Brosh and chairman Eli Ohana, hoping to ink a deal before the end of the year.
Beitar Jerusalem called the deal “historic,” saying the money will be invested in infrastructure, the youth academy and for scouting and recruitment of players.
A new board of directors will be formed, and Hamad’s son, Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nayhan, will represent his father on the board.
Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan said after signing the deal: “I am excited to be a partner in such a glorious club… I have heard a lot about the change taking place in the club and the way things are going, and I am happy to take part in that.”
The deal is one of the most significant and prominent signed between Israeli and Emirati parties since the US-brokered normalisation deal.
Tech, security and tourism agreements are also being inked between the two countries, which before September had no official relations but had become close in recent years.
Despite their notorious racism against Arabs and Muslims, at first Beitar fans seemed in favour of the deal with the Abu Dhabi royal, with the promise of riches catching their eye.
According to Sports Walla, Beitar’s fans have seen 12 years of bad performances and results, and without a genuine change in the club’s management and financial structure the team’s future was looking dire.
But some Beitar fans expressed their anger and objection to the deal with the Emiratis last week.
Some of the club’s fans sprayed offensive and racist graffiti on the outer wall of Beitar Jerusalem’s stadium, saying: “Mohammed is Dead”, “Death to Arabs”, “Fuck Dubai”, and “You can’t buy us!!! $ Don’t fuck with us!”
However, a banner was set up outside Beitar Jerusalem’s stadium praising Hamad bin Khalifa and welcoming him to Jerusalem.
In response to the offensive graffiti, Beitar Jerusalem tweeted that it was “the strongest proof of the necessity of partnership with the Muslims and the Arab world in the war against racism”.
Beitar Jerusalem is the only club in the Israeli Premier League to not have any players in its history from the Palestinian community in Israel, which makes up 20 percent of the country’s population.
The club has faced several penalties for its fans chanting racist slogans and its opposition to bringing Palestinian citizens of Israel into the team.
Its hardcore fan base, known as La Familia, is notoriously abusive towards opposing players, routinely taunting them with racist and anti-Arab chants. One chant goes: “Here we are, the most racist team in the country.”
Fans of the club have been seen flying giant banners at their home ground depicting a man carrying a gun and emblazoned with the words “WAR!” and “La Familia”.
It was reported that La Familia was involved in attacking protesters who had assembled in Tel Aviv in July calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step down over corruption charges. Beitar is closely aligned to Netanyahu and his Likud party.
Ayman Odeh, an MP representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, called on YouTube in October to remove a racist song insulting the Prophet Muhammad, which was posted and sung by Beitar fans.
Emirati royals have invested their vast wealth in several sports clubs and teams around the world. Most famously Manchester City, an English Premier League club, has had historic success after billions of pounds were poured in by Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Mustafa Abu Sneineh is a poet and staff writer at Middle East Eye