Beitar Jerusalem fans on the terraces
The Financial Times' partial Middle East coverage has for some time been giving cause for concern - a bias no less worrying than that of the BBC and The Guardian. Their staff pursue the unwritten law that there must only be bad news about Israel. One narrative that western journos like the FT's correspondent Tobias Buck dutifully follow is that Israel society may come across like one big family, but is in fact hopelessly fractious and divided.
On Saturday, under the guise of an article on the 'not-so-beautiful' game of football, the FT published a portrait of the downright ugly 'bad boys' who support Beitar Jerusalem. No other soccer team in Israel glories in the fact it will not recruit an Arab player (although Buck does not reveal it has black players). What an unpleasant bunch. Out-and-out racists they are, screaming milhama at their opponents ('war'). Their hatred for Arabs and for the Ashkenazi 'liberals' of Hapoel Tel-Aviv is truly venomous.
The Mizrahim behind Beitar Jerusalem, Buck acknowledges, come from Arab countries. How and why did the families of the fans come to Israel? How many Jews have ever been allowed to play for Moroccan teams? Might persecution in Arab countries just have something to do with their anti-Arab racism? While it can never excuse it, might it explain some of their behaviour? No, Buck is not going there. Jews can never be portrayed as victims, except of each other. That role is reserved for Arabs - sorry, 'Israeli-Palestinians,' as Buck calls them.
Buck has dutifully absorbed far-left cliches and exaggerated claims of Ashkenazi discrimination against Mizrahim. According to the narrative, the Mizrahim are 'underdogs' of the Ashkenazim. Their raucous chants at Hapoel Tel Aviv are their way of 'getting even' with Ashkenazi-dominated society with its 'complex hierarchy'. The Mizrahim were relegated by the Ashkenazim to development towns (how unfair that not everyone streaming into Israel in the 1950s and 60s was allowed to move to Tel Aviv). The Mizrahim haven't had a prime minister from amongst their ranks, Buck tells us. Buck does not say that they have had a Mizrahi president, and prime minister is about the only job in the cabinet that Mizrahim haven't held down. What Buck is not prepared to examine is that divergent political opinions, not the 'ethnic demon', account for the hostility the fans of Beitar show to Hapoel Tel Aviv, whom they disparage as belonging 'in the Arab camp.'
Of course the valiant Arab team of Bnei Sakhnin (Buck irritatingly terms them 'Israeli-Palestinians') come out as 'fine' footballers and 'thoughtful' men. They are the only moderates around here, long-suffering champions of Israeli-Arab coexistence, pained by the Jewish racism around them. Here, Buck comes across as more radical than the Arab player he interviews, finding it offensive that Arab-Israelis must sing the Israeli national anthem Hatikva, that speaks of Jews and only the Jews yearning for the land. The cheek of it.
How much more offensive than for British citizens of the Muslim or Jewish persuasion to show allegiance to the Union Jack flag, with its three crosses?
Read article in full