Racism row brews in Israeli football
The proposed signing of two Russian Muslim footballers has sparked a racism row in Israeli football with the deputy prime minister saying he was shocked and ashamed by the furious reaction of some fans.
Beitar Jerusalem's Russian-born owner Arkady Gaydamak has vowed to sign two Chechens from Terek Grozny, angering fans of Beitar, which is renowned for its nationalist fans and unique among Israel's top clubs in never having signed an Arab player.
Supporters reportedly chanted anti-Muslim slogans and displayed a banner reading "Beitar will always remain pure" at a Premier League game Saturday that saw three Beitar fans arrested.
"I am ashamed of those fans who make racism an integral part of their agenda and call on Beitar fans, sports fans and the rest of Israel to cast them out from their midst," Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon, reportedly himself a Beitar fan, said on Twitter Sunday.
"We cannot ignore racism like this as was directed in the recent past and still is directed against the Jewish people."
Yaalon said the timing of the Beitar chants was particularly significant because Sunday was International Holocaust Memorial Day, and called on police and football authorities to take action.
Beitar has previously signed one Muslim player, Nigerian defender Ibrahim Nadalla, who left soon after his arrival in 2005 after being subjected to a barrage of anti-Muslim and racist chants from the team's fans.
The two players Gaydamak wishes to sign are 23-year-old forward Zaur Sadaev, who typically plays as a substitute for Terek, and 19-year-old defender Dzhabrail Kadiev from the reserves.
Terek are fifth in the Russian Premier League while Beitar is fourth in the Israeli league and challenging for a place in European competition next season.