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November 3, 2012

When an Israeli soccer game looks like a Klan rally


|Published November 2, 2012

It’s hard to say which is worse – the behavior of racist fans, or the tacit approval they get from Israeli sports officials and media.

I like to think that if you discount for the century of fighting with Arabs, Israel is still plenty racist, but no more than most societies. I remind myself that even the absolute worst display of Israeli racism – the chanting of monkey noises (“hoo-hoo-hoo!! hoo-hoo-hoo!!”) and the throwing of bananas at black players during soccer games – has been going on in Europe, too, and probably elsewhere. But what happened this week to Nigerian-born Israeli player Toto Tamuz shows a level of callousness to blatant, raw racism that I wonder how many countries could match.

On Monday, Tamuz scored the go-ahead goal against Beitar Jerusalem in the capital’s Teddy Stadium, and right afterward looked out at the crowd and put his index finger up to his lips to shush them. Immediately the referee penalized him for unsportsmanlike conduct: “provoking the crowd.” Since this was Tamuz’s second penalty of the game, he was automatically disqualified. His team, Hapoel Tel Aviv, went on to lose, 3-2.

It was only after a day of sports reporters and commentators praising the Beitar crowd for firing up the atmosphere with their mad-dog spirit that it became known why Tamuz tried to shush the crowd in the first place. He told Yediot Aharonot:

I’ve never seen such racism in my whole life. … [two other black Hapoel players] and I were the last ones on the field. When we came out of the tunnel they started throwing bananas at us. We heard curses and racist chants. … [During the game] I heard their regular song, ‘Give Toto a banana,’ and a lot of other things I’m embarrassed to mention.

Another black Hapoel player, Eric Djemba Djemba from Cameroon, told the newspaper:

When they call you ‘kushi’ [‘nigger’] … and throw bananas at you, it’s not exactly pleasant. I like this country and I’m happy to be here, but this is impossible. I didn’t know things like this happened in Israel.

From the media coverage I saw (which was not by any means comprehensive), these remarks were treated as “their side of the story,” but the “objective” story was mainly about a hugely exciting soccer game in which there probably was a bad call by the ref, along the lines of:  you shouldn’t throw a player out of the game for “shushing” the crowd, but then those are the breaks …

What’s shocking about all this is that everyone in Israel knows that what Tamuz and Djemba Djemba described is what happens at any given game in which black players are on the field, especially if they score a goal. I witnessed it myself at a game in Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium in 2006, one of the very few Israeli soccer games I’ve been to. When an opposing black player would get the ball, a few Maccabi Tel Aviv fans several rows up from me would start chanting the monkey noises. (Neither I nor anyone else in the stands said a word to them. I was there with my two young sons, and I was afraid to confront them for fear of having to fight them all, which I imagine was in the minds of many other fans.) Later, when one of the black players on the visiting team scored a goal, the section reserved for several hundred hardcore Maccabi fans erupted with loud, furious, sustained chants of “hoo-hoo-hoo!! hoo-hoo-hoo!!

This sort of thing has been going on at Israeli soccer games ever since the first black players arrived from overseas almost 20 years ago. The racist chanting against opposing Arab players has been going on ever since Arabs came into the league. Everybody knows this – and everybody knows that the worst, most psychotically racist fans in the country are those of Beitar Jerusalem, and that the atmosphere in Teddy Stadium when there are Arab or black opponents on the field is something out of a Klan rally. (I’ve sat in the stands with Beitar fans; they sing “I hate all the Arabs” with as much ease and familiarity as they sing Happy Birthday to You.)

Anybody who knows anything about Israeli soccer knows that Tamuz, who used to play for Beitar Jerusalem, was telling the truth – that he was trying to silence the racial mass hysteria going on in the stands. The same exact thing happened to him about two years ago in a game against Beitar – the monkey noises, the singing of “Give Toto a banana” – only that time the Israel Football Association had the decency to penalize Beitar, even rather severely, in soccer terms. But that was the exception; the rule is to accept what’s going on, to pretend it’s not happening, and the rule was in force this week.

The story wasn’t the Beitar crowd, but rather Tamuz. When the referee made him the villain and kicked him out of the game for his shushing gesture, the question in the media was whether the referee had been too harsh, not whether such a thing could have really happened, not whether we were all living in some Stephen King story.

And it didn’t end there. When the referee threw Tamuz out, the 24-year-old made some parting remarks. Tamuz says he told the ref that the crowd was the guilty one, not him. The ref says Tamuz called him “a shame and disgrace.” For that, Tamuz had to go before an Israel Football Association judge, attorney Yisrael Shimoni, who banned him from Hapoel’s next two games and put him on probation for two more.  ”There is no connection between, on the one hand, the atmosphere in the stands and whether racist expressions were made or not, and, on the other hand, the insulting remarks to the referee,” said the judge.

Beitar Jerusalem, the pride of the Israeli right, the only team in the league that has an unwritten but ironclad ban on hiring Arab players, said the claims by Tamuz and Djemba Djemba were an “orchestrated campaign of lies.”

Hapoel Tel Aviv, the pride of the Israeli left, the only predominantly Jewish team in the league to have an Israeli Arab captain, provided the only note of decency and honor in this episode. It announced: “The team will give full backing to its players who fall victim to racist attacks from rival fans. The next time the team’s players are victimized by racist, demeaning behavior from the fans of any team – all of [Hapoel’s] players and officials will leave the field immediately.”


Israelis vs. Africans (Goldstein Dawn)


October 28, 2012 Tel Aviv, Israel protest demanding the expulsion of all non-Jewish African asylum-seekers

Goldstein dawn, may be a  reference to the xenophobic fascist Greek political party Golden Dawn

The Revolution Becomes More Islamist

Robin Yassin-Kassab

with 11 comments

photo by reuters/ zain karam

Like ‘armed gangs’, armed Islamists are one of the Syrian regime’s self-fulfilling prophecies. Most grassroots organisers and fighters are secularists or moderate Islamists, but the numbers, organisational power and ideological fervor of more extreme and sectarian Islamists are steadily rising. So why is the revolution taking on an increasingly Islamist hue? Here are some points in order of importance.

First, the brute fact of extreme violence. As the saying goes, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” Not only is faith intensified by death and the threat of death, and by the pain and humiliation of torture, but tribal and sectarian identities are reinforced. We want to feel like we when in death’s presence, not like I, because I is small and easily erased. So in Syria at the moment many Sunnis are identifying more strongly as Sunnis, Alawis as Alawis, Kurds as Kurds, and so on. This is very sad and it immeasurably complicates the future task of building a civil state for all, but it is inevitable in the circumstances. The violence was started by the regime, and the regime is still by far the greatest perpetrator of violence, including aerial bombardment of villages and cities, and now the liberal use of child-killing cluster bombs.

Second, beyond patriotic feelings for Palestine and Iraq and an unarticulated sense that their government was corrupt, two years ago most men in the armed resistance were apolitical. Finding themselves having to fight, and suddenly entered onto the political stage, they search for an ideology within which to frame their exciting and terrifying new experience. At present, the most immediately available and simplest ideology on offer is Salafism. As well as for their stark message, Salafists are winning recruits because of their organisational and warfaring skills honed in Iraq and elsewhere, and because of their access to private funds from the Gulf. If this were the sixties, the revolutionaries growing beards would have had Che Guevara in mind (and if much of the ‘left’ in the world were not writing off the revolution as a NATO/Saudi/Zionist conspiracy, the left might have more traction). At present, Salafism is in the air. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the historical moment. And why were all these young men apolitical before the revolution? Why hadn’t they learned more of debate and compromise? Simply put: because politics was banned in Asad’s Syria.

Third, the perception that Alawis (and to varying extents other minorities too) are siding with the regime as it destroys the country and slaughters the masses has produced a Sunni backlash. To a large extent the perception is correct. The regime’s crucial officers, its most loyal troops, and most of the shabeeha in Homs, Hama and Latakkia are Alawis. It’s true that some prominent Alawis have joined the revolution, that Alawis were targetted by Asad’s sectarian propaganda from the start, and that Alawis have good historical reasons to fear the rule of the majority, but all this is academic to some of the men in the firing line. The situation has been made much worse by the lining up of supposedly ‘Shia’ forces in defence of the criminal regime. Iran, Iraq and Hizbullah each have their own (horribly mistaken) strategic reasons for opposing the revolution, but a fighter with no time for geostrategic analysis sees only a Shia alliance opposing his life and freedom. By their words and actions, Iran and its clients have confirmed the discourse of anti-Shia propagandists. Many Syrians who now chant threats against Hassan Nasrallah previously loved the man, and scorned those who muttered about his heresy or Iranian loyalties. Like racism, sectarian hatred is not something inherent in a society or in an individual’s heart. It is generated by propaganda and political reality. (Please someone tell this to Joshua Landis). So we have to worry about the Sunni backlash, but we also have to blame the propaganda and bad politics which catalysed the backlash.

Next, in the ears of many Syrians the phrase ‘Islamic government’ doesn’t signify ‘amputations’ or ‘women in burkas.’ Many Syrians hear the phrase as ‘just government’ or ‘clean government.’ Leftist and rightist Islamophobes made a fuss of the news that certain liberated areas of Syria have set up sharia courts, but this development isn’t necessarily as scary as it sounds. Family law was already run according to sharia in Asad’s Syria. In places where the state has collapsed, where corrupt officials have fled or been arrested, it is logical that local fighters and organisers would recruit respected clerics to practise a law which everyone understands. In rural Syria in particular sharia is more trusted than civil law, because the experience of civil law in Asad’s Syria has been an experience of grotesque corruption.

Then the regime went out of its way to kill or detain secularist or anti-sectarian activists. Secularist activists are in some ways the greatest threat to the regime, because their existence contradicts the regime’s sectarian propaganda. There are tens of thousands of disappeared, and amongst them many civil society organisers. We don’t know how many are still alive, but if and when these people leave prison their ideas will be reinjected into the revolutionary debate.

Finally, some units of the resistance that have recently grown beards and thrown a more Islamic twist on their videos are really only pretending. They are wearing Islamic clothing in the hope of attracting weapons and money from the Gulf. They are doing so out of necessity. This is what the regime’s violence has reduced the country to.

Is the increase in radical Islamism a problem? Of course it is. There is no reason to think that post-Asad Syria, once united and fed (for these will be the first tasks), will accept an undemocratic Islamism, but in the perhaps very long gap between here and there, radical Islamism poses a great threat. It makes it much more difficult to start building a civil state for all. It scares minority communities. It scares the West (which, anyway, is doing almost nothing to help). It means that at some point there will have to be a showdown between the majority of fighters who want a Syrian democracy and the small minority who want an emirate on the path to a global ‘caliphate’.

Should we refuse to support the resistance for fear of its Islamism? Absolutely not. The factors generating scary forms of Islamism are factors introduced by the criminal regime. The situation will continue to deteriorate until the regime is made inoperative.

 source Qunfuz here

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