How Israeli soccer hooligans fanned flames of hate

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Earlier this week, Israeli authorities arrested six men in connection with the ghastly killing of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khieder, who, according to reports, was forced into a car and then beaten and burned to death. The killing has been cast as a reprisal attack for last month’s abduction and slaying of three Israeli teens studying at seminaries in the West Bank. Their deaths form the backdrop to the ongoing exchange of rocket fire and missile strikes in the Gaza Strip that has led to about 80 Palestinians being killed.

A gag-order on Israeli media has led to rumor and innuendo surrounding the case. Initial reports suggested that some of the suspects in Abu Khieder’s killing were connected to La Familia, a notorious wing of soccer fans connected to Beitar Jerusalem, one of Israel’s more prominent soccer clubs. La Familia is known for its noxious brand of far-right, Islamophobic politics. While La Familia represents a minority of Beitar’s fan base, it has come to define the club to outside observers as a bastion of xenophobia and racism in Israel.

Unlike many other Israeli soccer clubs, Beitar has never had an Arab player on its books. Last year, when the team signed two Chechen Muslim players, fans, led by La Familia, revolted. They displayed a massive yellow banner that declared “Beitar Will Be Pure Forever” — a chillingly fascistic message — and a small group went on to torch the club’s office, destroying treasured memorabilia. At the time, as Buzzfeed notes, Beitar’s assistant coach said, “They’re burning buildings now… [they might] burn people next.” [Continue reading…]

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