Anyone looking for hard evidence that the normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is real, and not some cold, technical deal, like Israel has with Egypt and Jordan, need look no further than — soccer.
On Aug. 13, US President Donald Trump made his dramatic announcement that he had brokered an agreement between Israel and the UAE. Less than a month later, i24News reported that an investor from the Abu Dhabi Development and Investment group, a concern with close ties to the Emirati royal family, approached Beitar Jerusalem owner Moshe Hogeg with an offer to partner with him in ownership of the controversial club. The Emirati investor also owns a stake in the British Manchester City FC.
According to the report, representatives of the investment group looked at several Israeli teams. These included Hapoel Tel Aviv, a team that invests in bringing Jews and Arabs together, and a number of mixed, Arab-Jewish teams. Another team suggested to them was Hapoel Beersheba, which has several Bedouin players. Nevertheless, the investor insisted that their primary interest was Beitar Jerusalem.
The choice is surprising, at least at first glance. Al-Monitor has reported on the harsh reaction last year to owner Hogeg’s efforts to recruit a Muslim player for the team. The problem is a group of overly zealous fans, known as La Familia. Apart from their very vocal passion for the team, they are also well known for their racism, and particularly their hatred of Arabs and Muslims. They have announced it publicly on numerous occasions. Sometimes members of the group show up at games in T-shirts with logos of the racist Kach movement. They have even raised banners with slogans such as, “Beitar Pure Forever.”
This blatant racism reached a climax in 2013, when the then-owner of the team, businessman Arkady Gaydamak, recruited two Chechen Muslim players — Dzhabrail Kadiyev and Zaur Sadayev — despite La Familia’s protests. The fan club cursed the players during training and games, set fire to the team’s offices and walked out when one of the players scored a goal for the team. Three months later, the two players broke down and left. Then, last year, Hogeg tried again, this time bringing in a player named Ali Mohamed.